Ecuador's Correa vows more changes in second term

Ecuador's hugely popular leftist president Rafael Correa vowed to continue beloved social programs and outline plans for expanding oil production as he was sworn in to a second term Friday.

Correa credited his government's focus on "human beings over capital" for the country's current stability.

The result: a 10 percent drop in the poverty rate since 2006 and a 4.3 percent economic growth rate, higher than the regional median, according to official data.

Correa, 50, took the oath of office at a National Assembly ceremony attended by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Spain's Crown Prince Felipe, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, and leaders from Bolivia, Chile and Colombia.

For the first time, a woman -- National Assembly President Gabriela Rivadeneira -- administered the oath of office.

The US- and Belgian-educated economist, an outspoken populist, has brought stability to a country that went through eight presidents, three of whom were ousted in coups, in the decade before he was first elected in 2006.

Correa was later ratified in his job for a four-year term under a new constitution in 2009.

The president's approval rating is as high as 86 percent, according to pollsters Perfiles de Opinion.

Correa won a landslide victory in February for his final four years as president -- the constitution only allows one re-election.

Soon after, he scored a rare majority in the legislature, giving him a strong hand to implement sweeping reforms of such sectors as the mining industry, the prison system and the social security system.

He will also further enforce a controversial communications law that tightens the rules on criticizing public officials, a law that large media conglomerates vehemently oppose. Correa has accused the media conglomerates of conspiring to destabilize his government.

Ecuador, OPEC's smallest member with a population of some 16 million, is heavily dependent on oil revenue, and Correa has said that finding more crude is essential to its future.

The country has proven reserves of 7.2 billion barrels but is short on refining capacity. Correa wants to build a new refinery, and has also opened a tender process for 16 tracts of the Amazon rainforest with an eye to finding more oil.

Both the Amazon oil fields and a push to open new mining projects are opposed by many indigenous Ecuadoran communities.

Correa has also announced plans to build eight hydroelectric dams, at a cost of some $5 billion.

Opposition legislator Mae Montano was unimpressed by the speech.

"I was hoping for a more firm call to unity," she told reporters. "I'm left with concerns and questions about how he'll continue dealing with freedom of expression.

"The quest for social justice is necessary, but freedoms are above everything else," Montano said.

Correa said this week that he will not run for another term in 2017, even if his party does not have a strong candidate to replace him.

The president plans to move to Belgium, the birthplace of his wife Anne Malherbe Gosselin, to avoid overshadowing any potential candidate.