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Ecuador's leftist presidential front-runner defends closer relations with Venezuela's Chavez in televised debate

Ecuador's leftist presidential front-runner defends closer relations with Venezuela's Chavez in televised debate

Ecuador's leftist front-running presidential candidate defended deepening relations with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez during a televised debate with his three closest rivals ahead of the Oct. 15 elections.
"We absolutely do not have to ask for authorization from anybody to seek getting closer with a brother nation like Venezuela," said Rafael Correa, in apparent reference to concerns in Washington about Chavez's growing influence in the region. "We will seek that with all countries of Latin America."
The debate late Thursday was aired by Ecuador's Channel 8 and broadcast by CNN's Spanish-language service.
Correa, a U.S.-trained economist, has recently surged to the front with about 27 percent backing. He has a roughly 10 point lead over his closest challenger, center-left former Vice President Leon Roldos, who is only a couple of percentage points ahead of populist banana-magnate billionaire Alvaro Noboa, polls show. Trailing in fourth place is conservative former Congresswoman Cynthia Viteri, with about 10 percent support.
If no candidate wins more than half the vote _ or at least 40 percent with a 10-percentage point advantage over the nearest challenger _ a runoff will be held on Nov. 26.
Correa pledges to cut foreign debt payments, break ties with international lenders like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, and rewrite Ecuador's constitution to shore up executive power over Congress and the courts.
Taking a page from Chavez's political play book, Correa has railed against U.S. President George W. Bush. After the Venezuelan leader called Bush "the devil" in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly, Correa last week capitalized on the remark with his own jab.
"Calling Bush the devil is offending the devil," he said. "I believe Bush is a tremendously dimwitted president who has done great damage to his country and to the world."
Addressing the Chavez question Thursday, Roldos said, if elected, he would seek "relations of sovereignty and dignity" with Venezuela.
Noboa, however, pledged: "I will not have political relations with either Venezuela or Cuba. I am no hypocrite."
Viteri declared middle road position between Caracas and Washington, saying she would not accept "intervention by any country, English-speaking or Spanish speaking."
Noboa and Viteri agreed that Ecuador should try to resume stalled free trade talks with Washington, as well as other nations.
Roldos said approval of any free trade agreement would have to come from a popular referendum.
Correa called the prospect of a trade deal "ominous" and pledged "we simply will not sign it and we will seek regional integration" with Ecuador's Latin American neighbors instead.
Talks with Washington hit an impasse in April when Ecuador's Congress passed a law giving the government 50 percent of windfall petroleum profits whenever the international oil market exceeds prices established in existing contracts.
The Bush administration which contends the law violates a bilateral investment treaty signed in August 1993, broke off trade negotiations in May after Ecuador took action against Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum Corp., canceling its operating concession and seizing its facilities over a long-standing contract dispute.


Updated : 2020-12-01 17:32 GMT+08:00