Colombia ruling backs Uribe reelection bid

BOGOTA Tue Jan 12, 2010 5:32pm EST

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BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia's Constitutional Court should approve a referendum to allow President Alvaro Uribe to run for reelection, the country's ombudsman said on Tuesday, in a ruling bolstering the U.S. ally's chances of a third term.

The Inspector General's recommendation is nonbinding and the country's Constitutional Court still has the final word on whether to allow a referendum on changing the law to clear the way for Uribe to run for office again in May.

"The inspector general's office urges the Constitutional Court to declare the law constitutional," the ombudsman's office said in a statement posted on its website.

Uribe, popular for his U.S.-backed campaign against leftist rebels, has yet to say whether he will run. But the bid to change the constitution again to allow a second Uribe reelection is drawing fire from critics who say it would undermine Colombia's democracy.

Constitutional magistrates now have up to two months to make a ruling on whether the reelection would be legal, but time would be very tight for electoral authorities to organize a referendum before the May presidential vote.

First elected in 2002, Uribe was reelected in 2006 after his allies pushed through a constitutional amendment lifting a ban on a second consecutive term.

Polls show he remains hugely popular with Colombians who are grateful to him for helping reduce once common kidnappings, bombings and rebel attacks.

But his second term has been dogged by the economic downturn and scandals from probes into soldiers killing civilians to the arrest of lawmaker allies for cooperating with outlawed militias involved in drug trafficking and massacres.

(Reporting by Patrick Markey in Bogota, Editing by Sandra Maler)

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