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Exiled ex-Ecuador president doesn’t exclude political return

BRUSSELS (AP) — Former Ecuador president Rafael Correa said the political asylum he has been granted in Belgium is proof he is persecuted by his country’s authorities and did not rule out a return to politics in an interview with The Associated Press on Monday.

Correa, who in 2020 was found guilty of corruption and sentenced to eight years in prison in absentia, has been living in his wife’s native Belgium since 2017.

Though Ecuadorian authorities have demanded his arrest and extradition previously, thus far he has been allowed to stay in Belgium.

Ecuador’s National Court of Justice sent a new extradition request for Correa last week, but it has since emerged that the Belgian Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons granted the former head of state asylum, with the status of refugee.

The agency has issued a certificate dated April 15 that has been seen by the AP.

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Correa said he can now travel safely across the world, except in Ecuador.

“I give conferences, I give economic advice, so I have to travel to work, to get an earning,” he said.

Correa said the only way for him to stop what he perceives as political persecution would be to hold an elected position again.

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“So if I need to return to my country to win the election, I should do that,” he said.

Ecuador’s National Court of Justice president Iván Saquicela said last week that he signed the order initiating the extradition process in relation with Correa’s sentencing in the corruption case. At the time, prosecutors said the former president oversaw a plot in which foreign and local businesses made cash payments to his now defunct Alianza PAIS political party in exchange for lucrative public works contracts.

Correa keeps denying any wrongdoing and presents himself as the victim of political witch hunt.

“We are persecuted people, not corrupted people,” Correa said, adding that he and his family have been harassed since he moved to Belgium.

Correa, who identifies with the Latin American left-wing movement, left power in May 2017 after a decade at the helm of the Andean country.

He has since been wanted for extradition three times, once after being found guilty in a kidnapping case of one of his opponents and twice for the same bribery case.

Correa’s lawyer, Christophe Marchand, said the asylum application was filed because the former head of State was targeted for political reasons.

“It’s not easy to get the status of political refugee for a former head of state,” Marchand said. “We had to convince them that we were confronted to an utterly serious problem related to justice independence in Ecuador.”

LONDON (AP) — Women from across British politics called Monday for action to tackle misogyny after a newspaper ran a story accusing the deputy opposition leader of trying to “distract” the prime minister during debates by crossing and uncrossing her legs.

The Mail on Sunday quoted an anonymous Conservative lawmaker as saying Labour Party Deputy Leader Angela Rayner tried to throw Prime Minister Boris Johnson “off his stride” as she sat across from him in the House of Commons. The article likened it to a scene in the 1992 thriller “Basic Instinct” in which Sharon Stone is interrogated by police.

Rayner accused “Boris Johnson’s cheerleaders” of using “desperate, perverted smears.”

“I stand accused of a ‘ploy’ to “distract” the helpless PM – by being a woman, having legs and wearing clothes,” she wrote on Twitter.

“Women in politics face sexism and misogyny every day — and I’m no different.”

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Rayner, who comes from a working-class family in northern England and left school when she was 16, makes a sharp contrast to Johnson, who was educated at the elite private school Eton and Oxford University. Johnson has sometimes struggled to parry her attacks during debates.

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The prime minister condemned the article, writing on Twitter: “As much as I disagree with Angela Rayner on almost every political issue I respect her as a parliamentarian and deplore the misogyny directed at her anonymously today.”

Technology Minister Chris Philp said “nobody should have to suffer the kind of misogynistic abuse that sentiment amounts to.” He told Sky News that the anonymous lawmaker in the article would be disciplined if identified.

More than a century after the first female lawmaker was elected to Britain’s Parliament, women make up 34% of the 650 legislators in the House of Commons. Long known for its boozy, macho atmosphere, Parliament is now a more diverse place.

Some say change has not gone far enough. Many female politicians said the article was an extreme example of the sexism they encounter daily.

“I hope that some good can come out of this awful article in The Mail on Sunday, and that is that people see what it is like in Parliament and people call out this misogyny and sexism for what it is and that we get some change because Angela and no other MP should have to put up with this sort of rubbish,” said Labour legislator Rachel Reeves.

Senior Conservatives also condemned the remarks. Health Secretary Sajid Javid tweeted: “No woman in politics should have to put up with this.”

Conservative lawmaker Caroline Nokes, who heads Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee, said she had asked the Speaker of the House of Commons, Lindsay Hoyle, to censure Glen Owen, the journalist who wrote the article.

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