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Colombia's Congress backs presidential re-election bid

The Supreme Court is expected to permit South American rightist leader to contest in 2006 race.

Colombians will have to get used to the idea of being ruled by right-wing President Alvaro Uribe, the Bush administration's most reliable ally in Latin America, for four years more counting from 2006. The National Congress approved in Bogota on Wednesday an amendment to the constitution permitting re-election, a proposal fuelled by Uribe and his supporters in the Congress.

The main article in the five-point amendment approved 113-16, lifts the ban on re-election, leaving it up to the country's highest court to decide whether the change is constitutional. Political analysts said they think the nine-member Constitutional Court, would likely approve the change after some debate.

The Congress actually paved the way for Uribe, as according to last polls, his hard-line policies against leftist rebel groups enjoy 70% support in urban areas, despite growing discontent on his pro-market economic programs.

Colombia hosts the US second largest embassy in the world, only behind Washington’s diplomatic representation in Baghdad. Since 2000, the United States has provided Bogota with $3.3 billion in mostly military assistance, and President Bush promised more when he visited Colombia on Nov. 22. It is, indeed, Latin America’s main destiny of US military aid.

According to press reports from Washington, the Bush administration has quietly but steadily supported a re-election drive by government supporters who argue that Uribe needs four more years to help extricate Colombia from its long civil conflict. Sources also mention that U.S. officials think that Uribe has shown himself to be an effective leader in Washington's two-pronged effort to eradicate drug crops and crush Marxist rebels.

However, Uribe has been seriously questioned by human rights groups for his contacts with far-right death squads. Recently, trade unions and left wing democratic parties rallied in the main cities against Uribe’s pro-market reforms, filling streets with up to one million protesters.