Farah bows out with European indoor record

Mo Farah ended his indoor career with a new European record, winning the 5000 metres at the Birmingham Indoor Grand Prix on Saturday in a time of 13 minutes 09.

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16 seconds.

Farah, Britain’s four-time Olympic champion, plans to focus on road racing after the outdoor world championships in London in August when he will say his final farewell to the track.

The 33-year-old was helped to break the indoor mark at the Birmingham Indoor Arena in what became a two-way duel with Kenyan Albert Rop, who stretched him over the final two laps.

It was a fitting way for Britain’s most successful long-distance runner to end his indoor career – and a marked improvement on his only other appearance this season, when he came seventh in a cross-country event in Edinburgh last month.

“I knew from Edinburgh I needed to do some work,” he told the BBC. “I had to go away and leave my family behind to do more training. It has paid off. Hard work pays off.”

Farah shaved over half a second off the European record – and more than 10 off the previous British best – after pacemaker Adam Clarke had taken the 11-man field through a fast opening to the race.

Urging the crowd to raise the noise levels, Farah exuded his trademark calmness as he tucked in behind Rop for the final stages.

He hit the front with two laps to go before extending his lead, much to the joy of the large crowd.

Farah did not realise he had broken the record but paid tribute to the support he has received during his stellar career, in which he has won the Olympic 5000 and 10,000m double twice.

“The crowds have been so good for me over the years. I will miss it,” he said. “I can’t quite believe it’s my last race.”

US pledges ‘unwavering’ commitment, Europe lukewarm

Underlining US loyalty to its old friends, Pence told European leaders and defence experts: “The United States is and will always be your greatest ally.

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“Be assured that President Trump and our people are truly devoted to our transatlantic union,” he said at the Munich Security Conference.

Trump’s criticism of NATO as “obsolete”, his praise for Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, and his softer approach towards Russia have unnerved Washington’s allies.

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But Pence and other members of Trump’s administration – Defence Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – stuck largely to the foreign policy rule book in a major European diplomatic foray this week.

On Russia, the US would not relent in pushing it to honour the Minsk ceasefire accords with Ukraine, said Pence.

“The United States will continue to hold Russia accountable, even as we search for new common ground, which as you know, President Trump believes can be found,” the vice-president said. 

And Tillerson said the US would cooperate with Moscow but only when doing so “will benefit the American people”.

On NATO, Mattis emphasised that America remained “rock solid” in its support of Article 5 – the alliance’s core “one for all, all for one” collective defence tenet.

‘Not a word on the EU’

In response, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said he “had no doubt that the American vice-president and the defence secretary will do everything to fulfil their commitments to NATO as in the past.”

But pressed for his view on Trump, Gabriel was terse. “I can only say what I have spoken about with Mr Pence. And that I have done and on that I have no doubt.”

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said he was “struck that [Pence] had not at any moment mentioned the EU.”

“I don’t want to accuse Pence prematurely; he is going to Brussels on Monday and I hope that we will have a clear response on this question because Donald Trump gave the impression that he welcomes Brexit and that there would be more to come,” said Ayrault.

“The future will give more clarity on all the issues … I don’t believe in everyone for himself, in solving questions through force or through deals.”

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US politicians in attending the conference in Munich pointed to a chasm between what Trump’s envoys and the president himself said.

“Looks like we have 2 governments,” Democrat Senator Chris Murphy said in a tweet.

Pence spoke about “shared values between the US and Europe [but Trump] openly wages war on those values”.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel made no direct mention of Trump in her address in Munich.

She however, championed a clear message of international cooperation rather than the feared isolationism of the president’s “America First” strategy. 

“In a year in which we see unimaginable challenges we can either work together or retreat to our individual roles. I hope that we will find a common position,” she said.

‘Post-West world order’

Amid the turmoil, Russia stepped in to call for an end to what it called an outdated world order dominated by the West.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he hoped the world “will choose a democratic world order – a post-West one – in which each country is defined by its sovereignty.”

The time when the West called the shots was over while NATO was a relic of the Cold War, he said.

In its place, Moscow wanted a relationship with Washington that is “pragmatic with mutual respect and acknowledgement of our common responsibility for global stability”.

Moscow has been impatiently waiting for Trump to make good on his pledge to improve ties which plunged to a post-Cold War low as Barack Obama slapped on sanctions over the Ukraine crisis and Russia’s alleged meddling in Trump’s election.

On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly praised Russian President Vladimir Putin and voiced his willingness to work with him in fighting terrorism.

But in the face of growing controversy  over its links to Moscow, Trump’s administration appears to be backing off the warmer words used earlier for the former Cold War foe.

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Curtis Luck rues long stint away from home

Star Australian amateur Curtis Luck admits he needs to be smarter with his scheduling after failing to make the cut for Sunday’s match play round at the World Super 6 golf event in Perth.

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Luck needed to finish in the top 24 after three rounds in order to qualify for the match play component of the inaugural event.

But he fell four shots short of the mark, meaning an early end to his tournament.

The 20-year-old recently spent four weeks overseas while he played events in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Malaysia.

In hindsight, Luck said he spent a week too long away from home, and it ended up hurting his game.

Luck missed the cut at the Maybank Championship in Malaysia, and was unable to rediscover his form in time to light up the World Super 6.

The West Australian plans to turn professional in April after the US Masters and he has vowed to not repeat his mistake of spending too long away from his home base.

“I probably shouldn’t have played Malaysia last week,” Luck said.

“I probably should have come home after three weeks on the road and prepared for this one.

“Things got a little sloppy, and when you’re playing events with this status with the players that are there, you can’t afford to be sloppy or put any bad scores on the board.

“I was happy to scramble and make the halfway cut.

“The first day was pretty rough. It would have been nicer to make the fourth round cut, but that’s OK.”

Luck, who shot to fame by winning the US Amateur Championship last year, is keen to return to the World Super 6 in 2018 but for now is mapping out his plans for the next six months.

“Ultimately I’ve just got to get my golf right and feel comfortable before heading to the US and starting more fulltime over there,” Luck said.

Mitch Marsh swaps power for patience

Subdued aggression and soft hands are working wonders for Mitch Marsh, who is well placed to mark his Test return in Pune on Thursday.

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Marsh posted a half-century in Australia’s recent intra-squad match in Dubai then backed it up with a knock of 75 against India A in Mumbai on Saturday.

The 25-year-old has seemingly edged ahead of Glenn Maxwell in the battle to claim the vacant No.6 spot in the Test side.

Marsh was first handed the mantle of Australia’s premier allrounder during the 2015 Ashes, when selectors ushered Shane Watson into Test retirement.

Initially called up for his powerful stroke play then retained in the XI because of his medium pace, the West Australian simply couldn’t make the tag stick.

Marsh played 19 Tests before selectors, unhappy with a batting average of 23.18, dropped him in November. He knew he had plenty to work on to be part of the upcoming four-Test series in India.

“I’ve been working on some gameplans over the last couple of months for this tour,” Marsh said.

“(Working on) my defence against spin. If you have a solid defence, you can attack the balls that are there to attack.

“The biggest thing for me has just been softening my hands, in my defence and also in my attack.

“The later you hit the ball, the easier it is to hit gaps – especially in the subcontinent when it’s turning.”

Marsh showed great restraint at Brabourne Stadium, sitting on 37 off 93 balls at one stage on day two of Australia’s only tour match before the first Test starts.

The right-hander belted one six off Shahbaz Nadeem but generally looked to score singles off the left-arm spinner in a 129-run stand with Matthew Wade.

“I’ve just faced a lot more spin over time,” he said.

“I’ve learned that rotating the strike is really important, especially in the subcontinent.”

Marsh was among the first group of Test squad members to arrive in Dubai, having injured his shoulder last month.

The youngster’s fitness was tested in almost 40-degree heat on Saturday. He opened the bowling in the absence of rested pacemen Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood shortly after spending almost three hours at the crease.

“I’m feeling really strong,” he said.

Marsh added he would be comfortable taking the new ball in a Test during the next six weeks.

“I’ve done it for Western Australia and for Australia in white-ball cricket,” he said.

“I practise with a new ball every now and then.

“If I do play it will probably be at number six, but I have’t really spoken to them (selectors) about that.”

Woman at centre of Roe v Wade case dies

Norma McCorvey, whose legal challenge under the pseudonym “Jane Roe” led to the US Supreme Court’s landmark decision that legalised abortion but who later became an outspoken opponent of the procedure, has died.

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She was 69.

McCorvey died at an assisted living centre in Katy, Texas, said journalist Joshua Prager, who is working on a book about McCorvey and was with her and her family when she died. He said she died of heart failure and had been ill for some time.

McCorvey was 22, unmarried, unemployed and pregnant for the third time in 1969 when she sought to have an abortion in Texas, where the procedure was illegal except to save a woman’s life.

The subsequent lawsuit, known as Roe v Wade, led to the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling that established abortion rights, though by that time, McCorvey had given birth and given her daughter up for adoption.

Decades later, McCorvey became an evangelical Christian and joined the anti-abortion movement. A short time later, she underwent another religious conversion and became a Catholic.

“I don’t believe in abortion even in an extreme situation. If the woman is impregnated by a rapist, it’s still a child. You’re not to act as your own God,” she told The Associated Press in 1998.

After the court’s ruling, McCorvey lived quietly for several years before revealing herself as Jane Roe in the 1980s. She also confessed to lying when she said the pregnancy was the result of rape.

Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, she remained an ardent supporter of abortion rights and worked for a time at a Dallas women’s clinic where abortions were performed.

Her 1994 autobiography, I Am Roe: My Life, Roe v. Wade, and Freedom of Choice, included abortion-rights sentiments along with details about dysfunctional parents, reform school, petty crime, drug abuse, alcoholism, an abusive husband, an attempted suicide and lesbianism.

But a year later, she was baptised before network TV cameras by a most improbable mentor: The Reverend Philip “Flip” Benham, leader of Operation Rescue, now known as Operation Save America. McCorvey joined the cause and staff of Benham, who had befriended her when the anti-abortion group moved next door to the clinic where she was working.

McCorvey also said her religious conversion led her to give up her lover, Connie Gonzales. She said the relationship turned platonic in the early 1990s and that once she became a Christian she believed homosexuality was wrong.

She recounted her evangelical conversion and stand against abortion in the January 1998 book Won by Love, which ends with McCorvey happily involved with Operation Rescue.

But by August of that year, she had changed faiths to Catholicism and had left Operation Rescue. Though she was still against abortion, she said she had reservations about the group’s confrontational style.

McCorvey formed her own group, Roe No More Ministry, in 1997 and travelled around the US speaking out against abortion. In 2005, the Supreme Court rejected a challenge by McCorvey to the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling.

In May 2009, she was arrested on trespassing charges after joining more than 300 anti-abortion demonstrators when President Barack Obama spoke at the University of Notre Dame. In July 2009, she was among demonstrators arrested for disrupting Sonia Sotomayor’s Supreme Court nomination hearing.

McCorvey was born in Louisiana, spending part of her childhood in the small village of Lettsworth. Her family then moved to Houston and later Dallas, where in I Am Roe she recounts stealing money at the age of 10 from the gas station where she worked afternoons and weekends and running away to Oklahoma City before being returned home by police. She was eventually sent to a state reform school for girls in the northern Texas town of Gainesville, living there from the age of 11 to 15.

She married at the age of 16, but separated shortly after while she was pregnant. She says her mother tricked her into signing away custody of her firstborn and then threw her out of the house.

“My mom screamed, ‘What did a lesbian know about raising a child?’ I lost my child, and my home,” she told the AP in 1998.

She gave a second child up for adoption, but when she got pregnant a third time she decided to have an abortion. She said she couldn’t afford to travel to one of the handful of states where it would have been legal.

In I Am Roe, she said her adoption lawyer put her in touch with Texas lawyers Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington, who were seeking a woman to represent in a legal case to challenge the state’s anti-abortion statute. She gave birth to the “Roe” baby in June 1970.

AFLW leaders Crows march on

Adelaide emerged triumphant from an arm-wrestle with Carlton on Sunday to join Brisbane on top of the AFLW ladder.

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In a tense, tight and low scoring match, Erin Phillips’ late long bomb earned the Crows a three-point win.

In front of 9,006 people at Thebarton Oval, Phillips roosted a 55-metre goal in the final term to ensure a comeback 2.5 (17) to 2.2 (14) success, their third victory of the season.

The Adelaide captain was mobbed by her teammates after the match-winning moment.

But it was the Crows defence which should be most pleased, restricting the free-scoring Blues to just one scoring shot in almost three quarters.

“Carlton got their numbers behind the ball a lot better and we didn’t adapt. The second half we were able to turn it around,” Crows coach Bec Goddard said.

Angela Foley deserves her share of credit, sent to dangerous Blue Darcy Vescio at quarter-time and shutting the forward down.

The Crows, tipped by many to struggle through the competition, are on track to host Brisbane in a battle of the league’s unbeaten sides in round five.

The Lions delivered Collingwood’s third-straight loss, keeping their noses in front for a 4.3 (27) to 3.5 (23) win.

Former sprinter Kate McCarthy delivered a show-stopping second term goal, picking the ball up in the centre square and taking five bounces on her way to the goal square.

In a season of firsts, a maiden AFLW draw was recorded in Sydney on Saturday.

GWS Giants forward Aimee Schmidt scored the last goal in their 7.1 (43) to 6.7 (43) result with Fremantle that denied both sides a first win.

In a battle of the well-established women’s teams, Melbourne proved too good for Western Bulldogs after quarter-time.

The Demons improved to fourth on the ladder with a 6.7 (43) to 4.5 (29) win that had Bulldogs coach Paul Groves praising the victors.

“Credit to them, their older stars played bloody good footy,” he said.

“We were able to quell them early and then Daisy (Pearce) goes into the middle and starts tearing us apart.”

Tax should be in housing mix: Berejiklian

NSW Liberal Premier Gladys Berejiklian believes taxes should be looked at when trying to tackle housing affordability, although she says supply remains the key issue.

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“I am very open to looking at potential tax changes to improve housing affordability,” Ms Berejiklian told Sky News on Sunday.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison have both repeatedly dismissed the idea of curbing housing tax concessions, like negative gearing and capital gains tax.

Making it easier to buy a home will be a key concern for this May’s federal budget, an issue Mr Turnbull has admitted is complex.

But he says the key is ensuring there are enough homes available.

“It is essentially a supply and demand problem,” he told reporters in Darwin.

Mr Morrison has raised the threat of increasing taxes more generally in the face of the Senate continually blocking spending cuts, especially the government’s latest omnibus bill which proposes welfare cuts to help pay for child care reforms and funding for the national disability insurance scheme.

Failure to curb spending and get the budget back into balance puts the nation’s triple-A rating at risk.

However, Ms Berejiklian is “absolutely confident” the federal government won’t hit health and education funding in efforts to save the rating.

“The federal government will find a way which manages their needs in terms of the triple-A rating, which strengthens their budget position but doesn’t necessarily hurt those core services,” she said.

The premier believes there is room for the states to have more autonomy in raising revenue, saying the present system, which hasn’t changed for decades, leaves them having to rely on more volatile taxes.

She thought it was “regrettable” last year’s GST debate had been and gone with no reform.

The federal government may be making some modest progress in trying to gain support for its 10-year business tax reduction plan.

Senate powerbroker Nick Xenophon now says he may consider a reduction for firms with more than a $10 million turnover, having previously only supported giving tax cuts to small businesses below that level.

“We’ll talk to government about maybe going a step further on that,” he told ABC television.

“But to give multi-billion-dollar companies tax cuts at this stage, given the alternative appears to be hitting low income earners, that doesn’t seem fair.”

It was his objection to the omnibus bill which drew a hostile response from the government and the threat of higher taxes.

Senator Xenophon hopes he can reach some common ground with Social Services Minister Christian Porter once the “the dust and the acrimony” has settled.

He said the childcare package is unambiguously a good thing.

But he hit back at Assistant Minister to the Treasurer, Michael Sukkar, who accused the senator for wanting to impoverish the rest of Australia.

Senator Xenophon said the remarks were “ignorant”, “stupid”, ” ill-informed”, and not very helpful.

Iraq forces launch operation to retake west Mosul: PM

Iraqi forces launched an offensive on jihadists defending Mosul’s west bank Sunday, in what could be the most brutal fighting yet in a four-month-old operation on the city.

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“Our forces are beginning the liberation of the citizens from the terror of Daesh,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a short televised speech, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.

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“We announce the start of a new phase in the operation. We are coming, Nineveh, to liberate the western side of Mosul,” he said, referring to the province of which Mosul is the capital.

Federal police and interior ministry forces were expected to start the new phase in the offensive by moving on Mosul airport, which is on the southern edge of the city, west of the Tigris River.

The jihadists have put up stiff resistance to defend Mosul, their last major stronghold in Iraq and the place where their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed a “caliphate” in 2014.

After shaping operations around Mosul, it took Iraq’s most seasoned forces – the elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) – more than two months to clear the eastern side of Mosul.

After a pause in the operation launched on October 17, federal forces now face what was always billed as the toughest nut to crack: Mosul’s west bank, home to the narrow streets of the Old City.

“West Mosul had the potential certainly of being more difficult, with house-to-house fighting on a larger and more bloody scale,” said Patrick Skinner, from the Soufan Group intelligence consultancy.

The streets around the historical centre, which includes the mosque in which Baghdadi made his only public appearance in June 2014, will be impassable for many military vehicles and force government fighters to take on IS in perilous dismounted warfare.

Prior to the offensive that saw IS seize Mosul and much of Iraq’s Sunni Arab heartland nearly three years ago, the east bank was more ethnically diverse than the west, where analysts believe the jihadists could enjoy more support.

Tougher resistance

“IS resistance could be greater in this area and it will be harder, but all the more important, to completely clear the networks from Mosul after its recapture,” said Emily Anagnostos, Iraq analyst at the Institute for the Study of War.

While the federal forces’ attrition is said to be high, IS’s had been undoubtedly higher and commanders have said the jihadists may no longer have the resources to defend east Mosul effectively. 

Recent incidents in liberated east point to the difficulty of ensuring remnants of IS have not blended in with the civilian population in a huge city which most residents did not flee ahead of the government offensive.

Aid organisations had feared an exodus of unprecedented proportions before the start of the Mosul operation but half a million – a significant majority- of residents stayed home.

Their continued presence prevented both sides from resorting to deadlier weaponry, which may have slowed down the battle but averted a potentially much more serious humanitarian emergency in the middle of winter as well as more extensive material damage to the city.

“Mosul is going better than we expected, but there are serious dangers ahead,” Lise Grande, UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, told AFP.

Residents of west Mosul have reported very difficult living conditions and warned that they were already low on food, with weeks of fighting expected to lie ahead.

IS fighters and Mosul residents remained able to move across both sides of the city during much of the fighting in the east but all bridges across the Tigris have now been dropped and the jihadists in the west are all but besieged.

IS has used civilians as human shields as part of its defence tactics and killed residents attempting to flee, making it both difficult and dangerous for the population to escape.

While specialised units may attempt to throw pontoon bridges across the river to attack from the east, the main initial assault of the upcoming phase in the Mosul is expected to come from the south on the city’s airport.

Army, police, interior ministry and special forces have been gearing up for the push on Mosul’s southern front, with a large concentration of fighters based out of Hammam al-Alil

 

Power costs a survival matter for business

Businesses are pleading with the federal government to deal with the energy sector as rising power prices hit their bottom lines.

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The Turnbull government in turn has kept its sight on state policies that lock up the gas reserves it says are vital to ensuring affordable and stable electricity.

“If the Labor Party wants to go around chasing Green votes and preventing the access to gas resources, then that has one obvious consequence: it makes gas more expensive and less available,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters in Darwin on Sunday.

“It undermines business because they don’t have the energy they need.”

Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg met representatives from steel manufacturer BlueScope last week, who delivered a blunt message.

“They said to me that the issue of energy security and affordability was a matter of survival for their company,” the minister told ABC TV.

Key senate crossbencher Nick Xenophon also called for more gas power to be brought into Australia’s energy mix.

But he said the government should look seriously at an emissions intensity scheme to make Australia’s electricity supply more stable.

The government ruled out such a scheme, which would make generators pay for excess emissions, a day after suggesting a review of its climate change policies may consider one.

“More and more experts are saying that that is the best way to reduce power prices and ensure security of energy supply,” Senator Xenophon told ABC TV.

“There’s a toxic culture of politics in Canberra that seems to prevent people sitting down together in a room from all sides of politics and thrashing this out and working it out.”

The government has been promoting high efficiency, low emissions coal-fired generation as a way forward but there is no appetite in the energy sector to build new coal plants.

Taxpayers could help pay for coal-fired power plants through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation but at the moment its rules say it can only fund new generators that have half the emissions of existing ones.

Even with the latest technology, coal power can’t meet that requirement without using carbon capture and storage.

Mr Frydenberg confirmed the government is considering changing the corporation’s rules to relax that 50 per cent emissions reduction requirement – a move that would require parliamentary support.

Senator Xenophon said coal was still quite dirty and it seemed to him clear the way to meet international emissions reduction obligations was to have more gas-fired generators in the short term.

“Once we get battery storage perfected, then you can let it rip in terms of intermittent forms of energy supply,” he said.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian called for a balanced approach to energy security through a strong national framework and a mixture of power sources.

Ecuador in vote that could alter Assange’s fate

Socialist presidential candidate Lenin Moreno, who leads in opinion polls, favors continuing to grant the Australian whistleblower asylum, which was granted to him under outgoing leader Rafael Correa.

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But two conservative contenders, Guillermo Lasso and Cynthia Viteri, each told AFP they would end Assange’s asylum if they win the election.

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Under Correa, Ecuador grabbed world headlines when it defied the United States by granting Assange refuge as he fights against Swedish rape charges.

The move has also shielded him from arrest over possible extradition to the United States for leaking diplomatic cables that embarrassed Washington.

WikiLeaks has said Assange could travel to the United States to face investigation if his rights were “guaranteed”.

Boom, bust

The Ecuadoran elections could see a pillar of the Latin American left swing to the right in a country at an economic and political crossroads.

After a decade of leftist rule, voters must decide whether to follow Argentina, Brazil and Peru in switching to a conservative government.

Over his decade in power, leftist economist Correa, 53, oversaw an economic boom in the country of 16 million. But he is not up for re-election.

The economy shrank by 1.7 percent last year, suffering notably from falling oil prices.

Correa is accused of failing to save any petrodollars for a rainy day, and of hampering businesses with high taxes and duties.

“When Correa came to power he promised to diversify the production model,” Alberto Acosta-Burneo, an economist at the Spurrier Group consultancy, told AFP.

“But he is leaving behind a country in which it is very difficult to produce things.”

The future of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange hangs in the balance after two conservative candidates said they will withdraw Ecuador’s support if elected.AAP

Corruption

Correa’s ally and would-be successor Moreno, 63, promises to continue the outgoing president’s tax-and-spend social policies.

“The Ecuadoran people have affection (for us) and are determined to continue with this process,” Moreno told AFP on Wednesday at a campaign event.

But in an uncertain contest, Moreno faces a challenge from ex-banker Lasso, 61, second in the opinion polls.

Lasso has vowed to cut spending and taxes, lure foreign investment and create a million jobs.

He has slammed Correa’s allies over alleged links to a corruption scandal.

“We have to vote for change to fight against corruption,” Lasso said at a campaign rally on Wednesday.

The third-placed candidate is conservative former lawmaker Viteri, 51.

Trump

Correa says Latin America needs a strong leftist movement to resist US President Donald Trump’s hard line on immigration and trade.

But Lasso and Viteri have given positive signs towards Washington since Trump’s election victory in November.

Uncertainty

Opinion polls indicate Moreno will likely win Sunday’s first-round vote.

But if his lead is not big enough, he will face a runoff on April 2 against a conservative rival, most likely Lasso.

Polls show a high ratio of undecided voters.

“Any party could beat the governing one in the second round, because there is major resistance to and rejection of the government,” said political scientist Paolo Moncagatta of Quito’s San Francisco University.

But Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington cautioned: “It is a mistake to underestimate the strength of support for Correa’s side.”

Voters will also elect a new parliament.

Polling stations will open from 1200 GMT to 2200 GMT. Results are expected from about 0100 GMT Monday.

Ecuadorian Presidential candidate Cynthia Viteri will withdraw asylum for Julian Assange if elected.AAP