Foreign reporter caught up in Ecuador unrest can stay: judge

Quito (AFP) - A judge in Ecuador on Monday refused to deport a Franco-Brazilian journalist who was covering protests against President Rafael Correa's government.

Authorities detained Manuela Picq, 38, and scores of others in the demonstrations on Thursday that turned violent.

"This authority has decided to refuse deportation," Judge Gloria Pinza said in proceedings closely watched by the international community amid concerns about respect for a free press.

Following Picq's detention, authorities had asked for her removal alleging that she may have been in Ecuador without proper documentation.

"I am really pleased," she said with a broad smile, raising her arms in a victory sign.

"It is a victory for the defense, the attorneys, for the press, and for students and the indigenous movement," added the journalist who has worked with international media such as Al Jazeera.

Picq was arrested Thursday in Quito while standing next to her partner and lawyer Carlos Perez.

He had organized indigenous groups to protest against Correa's government. Thursday's demonstrations saw 67 police injured and 47 demonstrators detained.

"The truth always wins in the end," Perez said.

"We knew that this legal proceeding was totally baseless. It was an utter scandal what thy were trying to do legally."

Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said Picq was organizing a protest without a permit.

Picq was in Ecuador on an academic-cultural visa when she was arrested.

And her attorney Juan Pablo Alban said he would ask for an investigation of documents he alleged were inappropriately used in her legal case.

In any event, "she is in a civil union with an Ecuadoran and that is enough for her to be granted a visa" that would allow her to stay in the country, Alban added.

Human Rights Watch, which Correa has harshly criticized in the past, alleged that Picq was a victim of police violence.

In office since 2007, Correa -- a leftist and economist -- has drawn increasing criticism over a constitutional reform package that would allow him to stand for re-election when his current term ends in 2017.

Discontent has been amplified by an economic slowdown gripping the South American oil producer, hit hard by sliding crude prices.

Indigenous protesters, who have been particularly vocal critics of Correa, blocked roads in six of Ecuador's 24 provinces Thursday, including the Pan-American Highway to Peru.