UPDATE 3-Colombia House deals blow to Uribe re-election

(Recasts, edits)

BOGOTA, Dec 17 (Reuters) - Colombia’s lower house of Congress on Wednesday passed a bill that would prevent President Alvaro Uribe from running for re-election in 2010, but his supporters said they would try to amend the measure.

If the bill stands, the popular two-term president would not be allowed to run for a third consecutive term, although he might be able to return to the presidency in 2014.

The Senate or the courts may yet change the situation as many Uribe supporters clamor for him to continue in power and keep up his U.S.-backed crackdown on drug-running rebels.

The House measure calls for a referendum to ask voters if the conservative leader should be allowed to campaign in 2014 -- meaning he would have to sit out one term.

Next year the bill will be taken up by the Senate, where Uribe supporter will try to change it.

Many voters believe only he can keep up the government’s tough security policies, which have increased investor confidence and cut urban crime rates.

But he has lost political support as the economy slows and the government faces criticism for its handling of a series of financial scandals.

Uribe was elected to a second term in 2006 after the law was changed to allow one immediate re-election.

About 4 million voters have signed petitions backing another Uribe campaign. Lawyers for those who signed are expected to argue before the Constitutional Court that they believed they were supporting a 2010 re-election.

“A president with 70 percent popularity, backed by millions signatures calling for re-election, cannot be counted out,” said analyst Mauricio Romero at Bogota’s Javeriana University.

“The nucleus of his supporters will keep looking for channels to allow for re-election in 2010,” he said.

Uribe appeared unstoppable in July when his popularity shot to over 90 percent after the army rescued French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and 14 other high-profile hostages held for years by leftist guerrillas.

Since then, the world credit crunch has weakened the economy. Dozens of pyramid investment scams collapsed, wiping out the savings of thousands of working families that formed a key part of the president’s support.

Uribe’s allies in Congress started wavering in their support for another immediate re-election and the Cambio Radical party, once a member of his coalition, has decided to field its own candidate in 2010. (Editing by Alan Elsner)