Leftist Rafael Correa has been sworn in as Ecuador's new president.

The 43-year-old economist pledged Monday to put the needs of the poor in his country ahead of foreign debt payments.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Bolivian President Evo Morales and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran were among those attending the inauguration ceremony in Quito.

After the inauguration, Mr. Correa issued a decree calling for a March 18 national referendum on the need for a constitutional assembly. Mr. Correa said the constitution should be changed to limit the power of Ecuador's major political parties.

Such a move would put him on a collision course with the congress, which is dominated by the same powerful parties and has ousted the country's last three elected presidents.

Mr. Correa is Ecuador's eighth president in a decade.

Mr. Correa received a doctorate in economics from the University of Illinois. He has been a critic of U.S.-backed free trade agreements in the region. He also has threatened to revise the contracts of oil companies working in Ecuador and to not pay foreign debts that he considers illegitimate.

On Sunday, thousands of indigenous supporters cheered Mr. Correa at an acceptance ceremony in the remote Andean village of Zumbahua. Mr. Correa told the crowd he would never fail them.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.