But he has now dropped the plan and the move could set the stage for him to seek a third term in 2008.

Uribe's political supporters have been trying in recent months to amend the constitution to allow him to run for a third term.

Vote uncertainty

The supreme court ruled last month that a legislator was bribed by government officials into voting for the bill that allowed Uribe to stand for a second term.

Yidis Medina, a former congresswoman, was sentenced by the court to almost four years of house arrest for accepting favours in exchange for supporting the constitutional amendment.

Uribe's subsequent call for a fresh vote raised uncertainty about how the election could be repeated and whether it would give him a fresh mandate lasting beyond 2010, when his current term ends.

Uribe's popularity shot to 91 per cent after this month's dramatic rescue of 15 rebel-held hostages, including French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt, and he is leaving open the option of running again 2010.

Patrick Esteruelas, an analyst for Latin America at consultants Eurasia Group, said that by abandoning the idea of restaging the 2006 election, the government is securing the way to a referendum for Uribe's a third term.

"The only obstacle in the way of him winning again in 2010 would be Uribe himself deciding not to run. Meanwhile, he will avoid being a lame duck for as long as he can by keeping his options open."

No successor

Uribe, whose father was killed in a 1983 botched rebel kidnapping, has not anointed a successor.

But his defence minister, Juan Manuel Santos, is seen as a likely candidate should Uribe decide against a third campaign.

Uribe won a landslide re-election victory in 2006 after cutting urban crime, making the highways safer and boosting economic growth with his crackdown on the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) fighting a four-decade-old conflict for autonomy.

Uribe has been at  at odds with the Colombian judiciary, repeatedly criticising judicial authorities, who have accused numerous pro-Uribe officials of having ties to paramilitary groups.

In June, Uribe asked a congressional committee to investigate whether the supreme court itself was infiltrated by such paramilitary groups.