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Ecuador Protecting Sharks

QUITO (Reuters) - Ecuador freed a U.S. environmentalist late on Saturday only hours after President Rafael Correa ordered his deportation for participating in a police raid that seized thousands of shark fins.

Sean O'Hearn, the head of environmental lobby group Sea Shepherd in Ecuador, had been held by police since Friday and was supposed to leave the Andean country by plane late on Saturday.

Correa, a leftist who has vowed to protect the environment, accused O'Hearn of violating the country's sovereignty by participating in the police raid earlier this week.

O'Hearn denies any wrongdoing and says he was only an observer in the raid that seized two tonnes of shark fins. U.S.-based Sea Shepherd had previously signed a deal with the Ecuadorean police to protect marine wildlife.

Correa has been under fire from environmentalists since he issued a decree in July that allows thousands of fishermen to sell the fins of sharks that are caught accidentally.

"Sea Shepherd wishes to thank President Correa for this action and urges him to rescind the presidential decree that allows for the trade in shark fins," Sea Shepherd said in a statement after O'Hearn was freed. "Sea Shepherd is preparing a detailed report on the incident and the overall
situation within the next few days."

Environmentalists say Ecuador's shark population is dropping rapidly due to the illegal trade in shark fins, which are in heavy demand in Asia for use in a popular soup dish.

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