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Ecuador Approves New Constitution

Ecuador has overwhelmingly approved a new constitution that gives new powers to the presidency to manage the economy and bolster social welfare programs. In Quito, VOA's Brian Wagner reports that exit polls show at least 66 percent of voters backed the new government plan.

President Rafael Correa celebrated the victory as a crushing blow to a system that he say is to blame for decades of social inequality and political instability in the Andean nation.

The president traveled to the opposition stronghold of Guayaquil to deliver a victory speech to supporters late Sunday. He said the vote was a historic victory that confirmed the revolution of the Ecuadorian people.

The president said it is impossible to deny that Ecuadorian voters have rejected the old system in Guayaquil and every other corner of the nation.

Despite sharp divisions with some opposition leaders, Mr. Correa said he is open to working with anyone to begin implementing the 444 articles of the new constitution.

He said the new constitution is not the end but the beginning, and that now the government has a foundation to build what will become a new nation.

Mr. Correa said that during the next week, lawmakers must select a transition council to organize new elections for a remodeled National Assembly as well as for president early next year. Under the new constitution, the president will assume new powers over the legislature, as well as the army and the central bank to manage the economy and other government activities.

Computer technician Heriberto Soto said he voted against the constitution because it gives too much power to the president.

Soto added that too much power concentrated in the president's hands would create even more political instability in Ecuador.

Orthodontist Silvia Torres said she welcomed the changes because they would combat rampant corruption of previous administrations.

Torres said she backed the constitution to move the country forward and prevent a repeat of a 1999 crisis when government officials stole millions of dollars in public money.

The new constitution allows Mr. Correa to seek re-election twice, enabling him to remain in office until 2017. The constitution also guarantees citizens access to public health and social security benefits, as well as free education from primary school through the university level.