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South African President Jacob Zuma tours the World Economic Forum on Africa meeting in Durban, South Africa, May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Rogan Ward

(reuters_tickers)

By Mfuneko Toyana

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa's ruling African National Congress said on Monday its executive committee stood by President Jacob Zuma after some top officials demanded his resignation, saying the calls for him to resign were meant to dislodge the party from power.

Zuma, who faces mounting pressure from within the ANC, survived a no-confidence motion at a meeting of the National Executive Committee (NEC) on Sunday, local media said.

"There was a call made in the NEC for the President to consider stepping down as President of the Republic," ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe told a news conference.

Mantashe said the calls for Zuma to step down "are not so much about removing the President but rather dislodging the ANC itself from power".

Calls from opposition parties and civil society for Zuma to quit have increased after he axed respected finance minister Pravin Gordhan in March, triggering credit rating downgrades that have hit the chances of economic recovery.

The currency extended its losses to trade 1 percent lower to 13.000 rand per dollar by 1339 GMT on Monday, partly weakened by the ANC's decision to back Zuma, traders said.

Last Tuesday the rand firmed by 1.5 percent against the dollar on media reports saying the ANC would discuss the removal of Zuma at the meeting, held from Friday to Sunday.

Zuma is scheduled to step down from the ANC helm in December. His term as South African head of state ends in 2019.

The NEC stood by Zuma at a similar meeting in November.

Mantashe said 110 members of the NEC were divided over the calls for Zuma to resign.

"Various contributions in support of and against the appeal to the president to step down were raised. Many more were neither in favour nor against the appeal but emphasized the need for unity within the organization," he said.

NKC Independent Economists political analyst Gary van Staden said in a note that the outcome "was no surprise".

Citing sources, he said: "Voices in support of the embattled president outnumbered his detractors by three to one ... That flies in the face of growing media speculation and some expert opinion that the tide was turning against Mr Zuma."

(Additional reporting and writing by James Macharia; Editing by Andrew Bolton)

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