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After re-election, Correa wants big legislative win

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa (C) celebrates his re-election in Quito on February 17, 2013
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa (C) celebrates his re-election flanked by his current Vice-President Lenin Moreno (L) and his Vice-President elect Jorge Glass, at the Carondelet presidential palace in Quito on February 17, 2013.

Fresh from a landslide re-election victory, Ecuador's President Rafael Correa was hoping Monday to follow up with the sweeping legislative win needed to clear the way for deeper socialist changes.

If the firebrand leftist can secure an absolute majority in Ecuador's National Assembly he would have free rein to regulate the media, redistribute land and make other controversial changes.

The election process for the 137 assembly seats up for grabs is complex, and it is unclear how long it will take before definitive results are in, but polls suggest Correa will achieve his goal.

"Nobody is going to stop this revolution. We are making history," Correa told a crowd from the balcony of the presidential palace on Sunday, after clinching a new four-year term, his third and constitutionally his last.

"We are building our small homeland, and a larger one, too," he said, referring to Latin America as whole.

With 71 percent of the ballots counted in the oil-exporting Andean nation, Correa was ahead with nearly 57 percent of the vote, compared to banker Guillermo Lasso's 23.1 percent.

"Thank you for this majority. The first thing we are going to do is unblock progress on fundamental legislation," Correa told Telesur television.

Supporters of Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa celebrate his re-election in Quito on February 17, 2013
Supporters of Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa celebrate his re-election, outside the Carondelet presidential palace in Quito on February 17, 2013.

Lasso, who served as finance minister during an economic crisis in the 1990s, conceded defeat shortly after the results were announced.

Citizen Participation, a non-governmental organization authorized by poll authorities, projected that Correa's Alianza Pais would win 90 seats, or 66 percent, and Lasso's Creating Opportunities movement 12 seats.

In the mold of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, the 49-year-old Correa is one of a group of leftist leaders who have shaken up Latin America in recent years with populist and often defiantly anti-US policies.

Correa dedicated his victory to Chavez, who made a surprise return home from Cuba overnight after 70 days in Cuba convalescing from cancer surgery.

He wished the Venezuelan a speedy recovery, saying: "Venezuela, your beloved Latin America and we, your friends, all need you."

In power since 2007, Correa has taken on big business and media groups, imposed new contracts on oil companies and renegotiated the country's debt while touting his poverty reduction efforts.

His clashes with the media have drawn sharp criticism from international rights and press groups.

But Correa has vowed to forge ahead with a new communication law that would redistribute radio and television frequencies and tighten regulations.

"We are going to try to make this an honest press, because there is a corrupt press here that is in the hands of a few families who think they can say whatever they want because they have a printing press," he warned.

Last year, Correa irritated Britain and the United States by granting asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange -- who is wanted for questioning in Sweden over sexual assault allegations -- at Ecuador's embassy in London.

He broached the issue again Sunday by calling on Europe to quickly resolve the fate of Assange, who has been holed up at the embassy for eight months.

British Foreign Minister William Hague said London remains "remains fully committed to seeking a diplomatic solution" with Quito on securing Assange's extradition to Sweden.

Critics accuse Correa of scaring away foreign capital, though he has been more pragmatic than some of his allies elsewhere in the region.

Although soundly defeated, Lasso emerged from the elections as the most credible opposition candidate in a crowded field that included an ousted former president and the country's richest man.

"From zero, we've gone to being the second political force in Ecuador," Lasso said. "And now we have more than a quarter of the population supporting us, I have no doubt we will become the country's first political force."

Correa acknowledged that the election had helped consolidate the opposition.

"We have to organize ourselves better because the forces that oppose this project are going to organize more to stop it," Correa told a rally of frenzied supporters."If we don't change Ecuador now, we never will."

About 30 percent of Ecuador's 15 million people live below the poverty line, and Correa's social programs have won him support from the Galapagos islands to the Pacific coast, up the towering Andes and down to Amazon basin.