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Last Updated: Monday, 16 April 2007, 03:59 GMT 04:59 UK
Ecuador leader celebrates 'win'
President Rafael Correa
"Fear has been left behind," said President Correa
Ecuador's President Rafael Correa has been celebrating an apparent landslide victory in a referendum on overhauling the political system.

An exit poll showed 78% of voters backed his call for a people's assembly that would by-pass Congress and rewrite the constitution.

Mr Correa said the country had "said yes to the future".

He also threatened to kick out the World Bank's representative and said he would no longer deal with the IMF.

Mr Correa has said reform of the country's political system is essential.

But his critics accuse him of being authoritarian and following in the footsteps of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Mr Chavez was quick to congratulate Mr Correa after the referendum, saying: "That is how Latin America is moving forward, from victory to victory, from triumph to triumph."

Bank warned

Counting for the referendum is expected to be a long process and official results will not be available for a number of days.

We don't want to hear anything more from that international bureaucracy [the IMF]
President Rafael Correa

However, the BBC's Daniel Schweimler in Quito says supporters of President Correa were out on the streets just minutes after polling stations closed at 2200 GMT.

The president was shown on national television celebrating at a hotel in the country's largest city, Guayaquil.

A Cedatos-Gallup exit poll of 40,000 voters nationwide showed 78% in favour and 11.5% opposed.

Mr Correa said "fear had been left behind".

"The future was at stake, the country was at stake and Ecuadoreans have said yes to that future."

Mr Correa responded to the referendum with an announcement that Ecuador had repaid its final debt to the International Monetary Fund.

He added: "We don't want to hear anything more from that international bureaucracy."

The president also warned he would kick out the representative of the World Bank in Ecuador if the government received, as he put it, pressure from the organisation.

Second referendum

Mr Correa has railed against corruption in the country's political system, labelling Congress "a sewer".

Voters in Ecuador give their views on the proposals

But many of his critics have accused him of trying to increase his power and follow President Chavez, who has brought in controversial reforms in Venezuela.

Former Ecuador president Oswaldo Hurtado said of the referendum: "It's not a project for a better democracy. It's a project to accumulate power. All dictators always have had constitutions made to fit them."

The assembly at the centre of the vote would be elected within three months and have six months to draft the constitution.

The document would then be put to a second referendum.

Mr Correa has said he wants to depoliticise the courts and decentralise the state.

The referendum had sparked a political crisis in the country.

An electoral court sacked 57 lawmakers in March for trying to block it.

When the dismissals were ruled illegal, police prevented the legislators returning to their offices and the deputies were kicked and punched by Correa supporters.

People in Ecuador cast their votes

In pictures: Ecuador vote
15 Apr 07 |  In Pictures
Ecuador ends Congress stalemate
20 Mar 07 |  Americas
MPs clash with police in Ecuador
14 Mar 07 |  Americas
Ecuador swears in new president
16 Jan 07 |  Americas
Profile: Ecuador's Rafael Correa
27 Nov 06 |  Americas
Country profile: Ecuador
15 Jan 07 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Ecuador
15 Feb 07 |  Country profiles

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