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FILE PHOTO: South Africa's President Jacob Zuma attends the 37th Ordinary SADC Summit of Heads of State and Government in the capital, Pretoria, South Africa, August 19, 2017. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko/File Photo

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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) declined on Saturday to comment on a report its executive plans to force Jacob Zuma to quit as president, as its leaders gather to outline the party's programme for the coming year.

National broadcaster eNCA said on Saturday that the ANC's National Executive Committee (NEC) had resolved on Friday to ask Zuma to resign and that, if he refused, he would be forced to step down by the party's six-strong leadership group. The station did not name its sources.

An anonymous NEC member quoted by online news site News24 said that decision had been reached unanimously.

Zuma's second presidential term is due to run until 2019. The newly elected NEC made no mention of his possible early exit in a statement it issued after meeting for the first time on Thursday and Friday under the party's new leader, Cyril Ramaphosa.

Asked about the reports that Zuma would be asked to resign, an ANC spokeswoman said: "We can't confirm rumours of things that we don't know. The NEC has issued a statement on the totality of discussions yesterday."

DIVIDED PARTY

Zuma's presidency has been tainted by a series of corruption allegations, all of which he denies.

He retains the support of one part of the ANC leadership, but many others in the party argue that he has tarnished the image of Africa's oldest liberation movement. While he has been in office, the economy has also slowed to a near-standstill.

Ramaphosa succeeded Zuma as ANC head last month, making him likely to replace Zuma as the country's next president.

The party's Secretary-General Ace Magashule said on Thursday that Zuma's early removal as head of state was not on the agenda of the NEC meeting, which runs until Sunday.

But in recent days Ramaphosa has gone on the offensive against companies controlled by the Gupta family, businessmen friends of Zuma accused of unduly using political connections to win work with the state. They deny all wrongdoing.

That has fuelled speculation the new ANC leader and his allies are moving to lobby support for Zuma's removal.

In its statement following the first half of the meeting, the NEC said officials led by President Ramaphosa "will continue their engagement with President Jacob Zuma to ensure effective coordination between the ANC and government."

The main agenda item for the second part of the meeting, which will run until Sunday, is the party's programme for the coming year.

Markets have rallied since Ramaphosa's election as ANC leader in December, as investors have warmed to his promises to root out corruption and kick-start economic growth.

Any sign that Zuma could step down before his second presidential term ends in 2019 has tended to lift South African assets, including the rand currency.

(Reporting by Nqobile Dludla; editing by John Stonestreet)

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Reuters