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Ecuador Holds Presidential Election Sunday


Ecuador's presidential election Sunday will pit former coup leader Lucio Gutierrez against the country's richest man, Alvaro Noboa. Voter surveys consistently show Mr. Gutierrez, a retired army colonel, leading Mr. Noboa by at least 15 points.

Colonel Gutierrez finds backing among Ecuador's Indians, union workers and a party with Maoist leanings that endorsed him before October voting that narrowed the field of candidates from 11 to two. He faces Mr. Noboa, a banana exporter with support from the country's economic capital and port city of Guayaquil.

Closing his campaign this week, Mr. Gutierrez pledged to fight corruption in Ecuador, a country found by Transparency International to be among the world's most corrupt countries. Mr. Gutierrez has deflected Mr. Noboa's accusations that his leftist leanings would scare away investors, and rejects comparisons to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. He says if he is elected, Ecuador would welcome investment and honor its debt obligations.

Mr. Nobo claims his image as a business magnate would serve to bring foreign investment to Ecuador, where more than half the people live in poverty. He is facing accusations - and a lawsuit - claiming he defrauded family members of their father's inheritance. But this week in London, a judge cleared him of fraud in a suit brought by two of his sisters.

A televised candidate debate was to be held on Wednesday. But it was cancelled when both candidates raised objections to its format. Colonel Gutierrez objected that a friend of ex-president Jamil Mahuad was to be the moderator, and Mr. Noboa did not want questions from reporters.

Mr. Gutierrez helped to unseat Mr. Mahuad from power in early 2000 by joining protesting Indians to overthrow the government and set up a junta, whose rule was short-lived. That brought to power Gustavo Noboa, who is not related to Alvaro. In 1998, Alvaro Noboa lost a presidential bid and claimed electoral fraud afterward.

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