QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — Ecuador's electoral council on Tuesday rejected as insufficient a petition drive calling for voters to decide whether to proceed with oil drilling in a pristine Amazon nature reserve as planned by President Rafael Correa.
The council's announcement that not enough signatures were collected was met with cries of fraud by the drive's organizers. Correa has largely consolidated control over state institutions during seven years in power.
The council approved just 359,781 of the 850,000 signatures collected. That is well under the 583,323 signatures needed to force a referendum.
It's not yet clear when drilling would begin in the Yasuni reserve, which holds an estimated 843 million barrels of oil worth about $18 billion. Ecuador is an OPEC nation and Correa depends heavily on oil revenues for social spending that has aided his popularity.
Correa tried for six years to get rich countries to pay Ecuador not to drill in the preserve. His campaign was novel but failed to attract sufficient donors. Governments complained about a lack of guarantees.
"We don't have any other option," Correa said last year when he abandoned the effort. "We need money to overcome poverty."
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