Page last updated at 06:37 GMT, Wednesday, 2 September 2009 07:37 UK

Colombia term rule change closer

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe (13 August 2009)
Mr Uribe is popular in Colombia for his campaign against leftist rebels

Colombia's lower house has approved a bill which paves the way for President Alvaro Uribe to seek a third consecutive term in office.

The controversial bill, passed after more than 12 hours of debate, must now go before the constitutional court before being put to a referendum.

Mr Uribe has not yet said whether he intends to stand in the next election, scheduled to take place in May 2010.

But critics say a regular change in leadership is important for democracy.

Lawmakers in the lower house voted 85-5 in favour of the bill, which was approved by the Senate in May.

"The Congress has fulfilled its duty," said pro-Uribe lawmaker Santiago Castro.

"It's up to the Colombian people now to define the fate of the re-election at the polls."

But opponents of the bill said its passing could lead to an erosion of democracy in Colombia and that eight years in office should be enough for the president.

Before the debate took place, opposition lawmaker River Franklin Legro warned that "the rules of the game of democracy" were at stake.

The BBC's Greg Morsbach says Mr Uribe is seen by Washington as the most reliable strategic partner in Latin America.

At home, he has won widespread approval for his uncompromising stance on fighting drug traffickers and leftist rebel groups, our correspondent adds.

But Mr Uribe's second term has been tainted by a series of scandals including wire-tapping accusations and links between congressmen and right-wing paramilitary death squads.

Mr Uribe has already changed the constitution once to allow for his re-election in 2006 and opinion polls have suggested a high level of public support for him.

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