Ahmadinejad guest of honour in Ecuador

QUITO (AFP) — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be a guest of honour Monday at the inauguration of leftist Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, who won an election late last year as a fervent critic of the United States.

Correa will take the oath of office here in the presence of many foreign dignitaries, including his key regional allies, Presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Evo Morales of Bolivia.

The president-elect ran on the promise to improve the plight of the Ecuadoran people, but now needs money to implement his ambitious development plans.

“The new president of this country shares common views with us, we will talk about deepening and expanding ties between Iran and Ecuador,” Ahmadinejad said Friday, before embarking on his Latin American tour.

The trip is designed to cultivate Washington’s critics and rally backing for Tehran’s nuclear programme, that the US government insists conceals ambitions to build nuclear weapons.

The Iranian president flew in late Sunday, saying he will invite Correa to visit Iran.

“We are interested in strengthening our relations with Latin America, especially with Ecuador, as well as with other countries of the world,” Ahmadinejad told reporters in Quito.

On Sunday, the Iranian president held talks in Managua with newly-elected Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, a cold war-era foe of the United States.

The two leaders announced the restoration of full diplomatic relations and the re-opening of embassies in each other’s capitals.

“Rest assured that we will improve our relations to the point of fulfilling every wish and thing that we desire. It is our will to walk hand in hand,” Ahmadinejad said through a translator after meeting Ortega.

Ortega said Ahmadinejad’s visit was “not merely a matter of protocol”. The Iranian president came to Nicaragua from Venezuela, where he signed commercial agreements with President Hugo Chavez, an outspoken critic of US President George W. Bush and advocate for Tehran’s disputed nuclear programme. Each proclaimed the other an ideological “brother”. Ahmadinejad plans to burnish relations with other leftist Latin American critics of the Bush administration when he attends the inauguration of Correa, who has pledged to forge stronger ties with Venezuela and allow a lease for a US military air base on the country’s Pacific Coast to expire.

Ortega, who was the Marxist leader of the leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front that ousted US-backed dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979, told reporters that Iran is willing to join Nicaraguans in a “battle to eliminate poverty among our people”.  The Central American country is one of the poorest in the Americas.

During his Venezuela stop, Ahmadinejad said the two countries had the task of “promoting revolutionary thought in the world”. “The reason for all the current problems is the erroneous direction of the powerful countries, where there is poverty, hatred, enmity and war,” he said Saturday.

Western powers are determined to end Iran’s enrichment of uranium and secured a UN Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on Tehran. Iran says the nuclear work is for peaceful uses, while the West suspects it could be used to build bombs.

Chavez, who has been a vocal advocate of Tehran’s nuclear programme, said Venezuela and Iran would speak with “one voice”.

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