2 Set for Presidential Runoff in Ecuador

By MONTE HAYES
The Associated Press
Monday, October 16, 2006; 10:11 PM

QUITO, Ecuador -- A pro-U.S. billionaire and a leftist economist who admires Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez headed to a runoff campaign Monday that threatens to aggravate political instability in Ecuador, where the last three presidents have been driven from power by street protests.

Alvaro Noboa, 55, a banana magnate who is Ecuador's wealthiest man, and Rafael Correa, an outspoken critic of U.S. policy in Latin America, will face each other in a Nov. 26 runoff after neither won an outright victory in Sunday's election.

Noboa won 26.7 percent of the vote to 22.5 percent for Correa, based on 70 percent of the ballots counted so far. Eleven other candidates split the rest.

The totals were based on a computerized "quick count" of paper ballots that stalled before dawn Monday due to technical failures by E-Vote, the Brazilian company contracted by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal. E-Vote apologized for the delay Monday and said it was working to resolve the problem. The tribunal has 10 days to complete the official count.

Correa had been favored to lead Sunday's voting and didn't take well to being edged out by Noboa, who had been rising fast in pre-election polls. Correa complained he had been robbed of votes that would have given him a first-round victory, but presented no proof.

Noboa, who is making his third bid for president, said Correa was a sore loser.

"The people have given this kid such a whipping that he is acting like a spoiled brat. They've told him to take a hike," Noboa said, calling Correa a communist and "a friend of Chavez, a friend of Cuba."

Ecuadoreans got a preview of the heated confrontations likely before the runoff when Correa called a TV station interviewing Noboa Sunday night and accused him of evading taxes on his 110 businesses and using child labor on his banana plantations.

The two traded insults and suddenly Correa, who was on camera from his headquarters, stood up and ripped off his microphone, saying he wasn't willing to continue to debate with an "unprepared" person.

"Look at him run away," a gleeful Noboa said.

Analysts said they expected both campaigns to be aggressive and dirty.

"We're headed into a violent, hard campaign," said Jaime Duran, head of the Informe Confidencial polling firm. "Correa is a person who doesn't know how to lose, claiming there has been fraud, an absurd thing. Noboa is a temperamental person and the ideological positions have been defined."


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