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Incoming Ecuador Leader Pledges Change

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By MONTE HAYES
The Associated Press
Sunday, January 14, 2007; 8:04 PM

QUITO, Ecuador -- Rafael Correa, a leftist economist and friend of Venezuela's anti-U.S. leader, promises swift radical political and economic changes after he is sworn in as president on Monday.

His plans have raised the hopes of Ecuador's poor but stirred worries that he may seek to govern arbitrarily.

Correa, 43, won a November election runoff as a charismatic outsider who pledged to lead a "citizens' revolution" against a political establishment widely seen as corrupt and incompetent.

On Sunday, five Indian priests in the Andean village of Zumbahua wrapped Correa in colorful ribbons, shook sacred herbs over his head and called upon the spirits of earth, moon and sun to provide his four-year term with positive energy.

Thousands of people, most of them Indians, jammed Zumbahua's central square for the ceremony, a mix of Catholic and Indian rituals to mark the beginning of Correa's term. Correa had lived in the village 20 years ago as a Catholic social worker.

"I will never fail you," he told the crowd to thunderous applause.

Correa was joined at the ceremony by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales, two fellow leftists and his closest allies in the region. All three were wrapped in the heavy wool ponchos typical of the Andean highlands.

Correa says his first act as president will be to call a national referendum on a special assembly to rewrite the constitution _ something he says is vital to limiting the power of the traditional parties that he blames for the country's problems.

"Citizens are fed up. We need a profound political reform, including a new generation of leaders," Correa said in an interview with The Associated Press shortly before his victory.

The nationalistic, U.S.-educated Correa has called President Bush "tremendously dimwitted." He has rejected a free trade pact with the U.S., saying it would hurt Ecuador's farmers. And he has said he will not extend the U.S. military's use of the Manta air base on the Pacific coast for drug surveillance flights when a treaty expires in 2009.

Correa joins a string of recently elected leftist presidents _ in Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and Nicaragua, many of whom plan to attend his inauguration. Some, like Correa, admire Chavez, Venezuela's firebrand leader; others have distanced themselves from him.

Correa's call for a constitutional assembly follows similar moves by Chavez and Morales, the first Indian to govern his nation.


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