Tue, Jan 16, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Ahmadinejad is guest of honor at inauguration

BROTHERS The Iranian president's tour of Latin America continues as he tries to find allies for his anti-US coalition by offering financial help

AFP , QUITO

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a guest of honor yesterday at the inauguration of leftist Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa, who won an election late last year as a fervent critic of the US.

Correa will take the oath of office in the presence of many foreign dignitaries, including his key regional allies, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales.

The president-elect ran on the promise to improve the plight of the Ecuadoran people, but now needs money to implement his ambitious development plans.

"The new president of this country shares common views with us; we will talk about deepening and expanding ties between Iran and Ecuador," Ahmadinejad said on Friday, before embarking on his Latin American tour.

The trip was designed to cultivate Washington's critics and rally backing for Tehran's nuclear program, which the US government insists conceals ambitions to build nuclear weapons.

The Iranian president flew in shortly after late on Sunday from Nicaragua, where he held talks with newly elected President Daniel Ortega, a Cold War-era foe of the US.

The two leaders announced the restoration of full diplomatic relations and the re-opening of embassies in each other's capitals.

"Rest assured that we will improve our relations to the point of fulfilling every wish and thing that we desire. It is our will to walk hand in hand," Ahmadinejad said through a translator after meeting Ortega.

Ortega said Ahmadinejad's visit was "not merely a matter of protocol."

The Iranian president came to Nicaragua from Venezuela, where he signed commercial agreements with Chavez, an outspoken critic of US President George W. Bush and advocate for Tehran's nuclear program. Each proclaimed the other an ideological "brother."

Ahmadinejad plans to burnish relations with other leftist Latin American critics of the Bush administration when he attends the inauguration of Correa, who has pledged to forge stronger ties with Venezuela and allow a lease for a US military airbase on the country's Pacific Coast to expire.

The Iranian president will also meet in Ecuador other South American presidents, including Bolivia's Evo Morales, on the sidelines of the inauguration ceremony, before finishing his tour today.

Ortega, who was the Marxist leader of the leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front that ousted US-backed dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979, told reporters that Iran is willing to join Nicaraguans in a "battle to eliminate poverty among our people."

The Central American country is one of the poorest in the Americas.

"The imperialists don't like to see us helping each other, getting ahead and developing our countries," Ahmadinejad said.

"But let the world know that the people of Nicaragua and Iran will march together and that Iran will support Ortega with all our strength," he added.

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