Image: Rafael Correa
Dolores Ochoa R.  /  AP
Leftist presidential front-runner Rafael Correa talks to his supporters during a campaign rally in Salcedo, Ecuador, on Wednesday.
updated 9/27/2006 6:13:00 PM ET 2006-09-27T22:13:00

The leftist presidential front-runner in Ecuador said Wednesday that the devil should be insulted by comparisons to President Bush, whom he called a “dimwitted” leader who has done “great damage” to the world.

Rafael Correa, speaking to Channel 8 television, referred to a U.N. speech last week by his friend, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who caused an uproar in the United States by calling Bush “the devil.”

“Calling Bush the devil is offending the devil,” said Correa, a U.S.-trained economist who leads 12 other candidates in polls ahead of the Oct. 15 election. He said “the devil is evil, but intelligent.”

“I believe Bush is a tremendously dimwitted president who has done great damage to his country and to the world,” Correa said.

Correa, who has been highly critical of free market policies advocated by Washington, said he merely expressed “personal opinions” and promised that if elected, “between states and at the level of leaders, the most absolute respect would be shown.”

Separating people from politics
Correa, who earned a doctorate from the University of Illinois, said his opinion of Bush did not extend to the American people, for whom he feels great affection. He said he lived in the United States when Bush won the presidency in 2000 through what Correa called “trickery,” apparently referring to allegations of irregularities in Florida voting.

The U.S. Embassy did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment.

Recent polls show Correa backed by about 26 percent of likely voters, 7 points ahead of his closest challenger Leon Roldos, a center-left former vice president.

Correa, 43, who served four months as economy minister under outgoing President Alfredo Palacio, has rattled markets with pledges to slash Ecuador’s foreign debt payments — either through negotiation or a moratorium.

Merrill Lynch on Tuesday cut its recommendation on Ecuador’s external debt to underweight from market weight amid a sell-off by jittery bondholders.

Correa has expressed friendship with Chavez and says he visited the home of the Venezuelan leader’s parents in August.

If no candidate wins more than half the vote — or at least 40 percent with a 10-percentage point advantage over the nearest challenger — a runoff will be held on Nov. 26 between the two top finishers.

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