UPDATE 1-S.Africa's ANC party rebel Malema loses appeal
* Appeal appears to have been final option
* Malema popular among young party members
* ANC appear to leave open Malema's eventual return (Adds comment from ANC statement)
JOHANNESBURG, April 24 (Reuters) - South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) rejected an appeal from political rebel Julius Malema on Tuesday, cementing his expulsion from the party and President Jacob Zuma's re-election prospects for 2014.
Malema, a vocal Zuma opponent and leader of the party's powerful youth wing, appears to have exhausted all his options after months of appeals since a disciplinary charge last year.
The ANC's disciplinary appeals committee said in a statement it had dismissed Malema's latest petition, confirming an earlier decision to expel him from the party.
Two of Malema's allies in the ANC Youth League also lost similar appeals, but were suspended from the party, not expelled.
The ANC said in a separate statement it had been a "difficult and painful decision" to subject Malema to discipline.
Despite the seemingly harsh punishment, the party appeared to leave the open the possibility of his eventual return. Continued...