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Colombia's Uribe Moves Closer to 3rd Term

Colombian lawmakers have approved a bill calling for a referendum on whether to change the country's constitution to allow President Alvaro Uribe to run for a third term next year.

The measure passed in Colombia's lower House late Tuesday by a vote of 85-5. The vote followed a lengthy debate and disruptions by anti-Uribe protesters. The Senate passed a similar measure in May.

The proposal now goes before Colombia's Constitutional Court, which has three months to approve the referendum before it can go before voters.

Colombia's Interior and Justice Minister Fabio Valencia Cossio called the lawmakers' vote for the referendum a "great act by the chamber in response to a popular initiative."

But opposition lawmaker Orsinia Polanco said the passage of such a measure is against Colombians building a real democracy.

In 2006, Colombia's Constitutional Court approved a referendum that changed the constitution to allow Mr. Uribe to seek a second term.

The president has not commented on the current referendum, and has not said if he will run for re-election in next May's balloting.

Because of his economic and security policies, Mr. Uribe has become hugely popular since his initial election in 2002.

Backed by financial aid from the United States he has successfully confronted Colombia's left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrillas.

But his policies have been widely criticized, especially over allegations that soldiers have killed civilians claiming they were guerrillas.

Even some of Mr. Uribe's most vocal supporters have spoken out against the referendum, saying it will undermine Colombia's democracy.