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Ecuador's new leader, Rafael Correa, is blessed by indigenous religious leaders during a ritual in Zumbahua, Ecuador, on Sunday. ((Fernando Llano/Associated Press))

In a ceremony attended by some of Washington'sstaunchest foes, Ecuador'snew president — a left-leaning, U.S.-trained economist —took office on Monday,pledging tofight corruption and U.S.-inspired economic policies.

Rafael Correa, who won a run-off election against banana tycoon Alvaro Noboain November, is the eighth president in ten years in Ecuador, a politically unstable nation of14 million where the leading exports are oil and bananas.

He's one of a string of newpopulist leaders in Latin America.

Among those who travelled to Quito for his inauguration were Venezuela's Hugo Chavez andBolivia's Evo Morales.Also on hand was Iran's hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, another leader who misses few chances to twist Washington's tail.

In an inauguration speech, Correa said the national constitution must be rewritten, a plan that is certain to put him in conflict with Ecuador's congress, which is dominated by his conservative opponents.

Keeping a campaign promise, he issued a decree calling for Ecuadorians to vote March 18 in a referendum on the need for a special assembly to rewrite the constitution.

According to astatement issued by his office, he declared that "the historical moment ofthenation and the whole continent demands a new constitution that prepares the country for the 21st century."

The existing political structure has collapsed,brought down partly by the "claws of corruption and political voracity," he said.

Correa, who holds a doctorate in economics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,has described himself as "left-wing, not from the Marxist left but rather a Christian left."

Aims tosteamroll 'overeveryone': think-tank head

In the speech, he denounced"the so-called Washington consensus" on free markets and debt repaymentandthe "neo-liberal dogma andmodelling-clay democracies that subject people, lives and societies" tomarket theories.

In a country where more than 60 per cent of people live in poverty, hisplatform attracted voters disgusted with the corruption and greed of the political elite, the Associated Press said in a report from Quito.

But some Ecuadorians worry that his real goal is to consolidate power in the presidency, as Chavez and Morales have done in Venezuela and Bolivia, AP said.

"He is leaving no room to negotiate, to reach an understanding," said Benjamin Ortiz, head of a Quito think tank. "He wants to steamroll over everyone."

With files from the Associated Press