Thursday, February 15, 2007

Japan rallies whaling nations despite protests

Japan held talks with dozens of countries to plot the future of the global whaling body, but most Western states boycotted the meeting as a charade aimed at resuming commercial hunting. The three-day meeting kicked off to a small protest by environmentalists, who accused the delegates -- most of them from developing nations -- of being bought off by Japanese money.Japan invited all 72 members of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to take part but, in a sign it is nearly split down the middle, 34 countries showed up.The participating nations on the first day discussed eight problems seen in the whaling body including "increasing emotionalism," host Japan said.Tokyo called the meeting to "normalise" the IWC -- which it believes is supposed to manage whale hunting rather than ban it -- but said it had sought to hear from those on both sides of the debate."It was disappointing that some countries didn't show up, but that doesn't mean that we will close the door on them," said Joji Morishita, director for international negotiations at Japan's Fisheries Agency.Australia, Britain and the United States are among the whaling opponents shunning the Tokyo conference.Japan, which says that whale meat is part of its culture, kills more than 1,000 whales a year using a loophole in a global moratorium meant to protect the giant sea creatures.Denmark -- considered a key swing vote on the IWC -- attended the Tokyo conference, defying environmental group Greenpeace which had urged supporters to call Danish embassies worldwide to ask for a boycott.Ole Samsing, the head of Denmark's delegation, said Danes were divided themselves as indigenous people in Greenland have a tradition of whaling."We call ourselves the kingdom in the middle of the IWC," Samsing told AFP."We are a small society within which you find the IWC situation," he said. "My hope is we can somehow find the words which are not offensive to the other side, to get normality, rationality back to the organisation."Ahead of the conference, militant activists clashed twice with whalers in the Antarctic Ocean, where Japan is carrying out its annual hunt despite strong objections from Australia and New Zealand.Sea Shepherd, a hardline offshoot of Greenpeace, said Tuesday it would not carry out threats to ram the Japanese whalers with a ship after an appeal from New Zealand.Greenpeace said Japan was using the Tokyo gathering to show off its rising clout before the next meeting in May of the IWC, whose annual gatherings are known for their acrimony.Activists stood outside the conference hall, with one dressed as a crying whale and another wearing a mask of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.As a bus of delegates rolled in, the Abe lookalike hoisted up a poster with the names of 28 countries attending the conference, each with a 10,000-yen note taped next to its flag."Many countries in the IWC agree that it needs to be reformed, but not in the way that Japan has presented. Japan is recruiting countries with money," said Junichi Sato, Greenpeace Japan's campaign chief. "This meeting is not about normalisation, it's about commercialisation," he said. Japan says it abides by the 1986 whaling moratorium by killing whales for "research," with the meat going on sale. Norway and Iceland defy the IWC altogether and pursue commercial hunting. Three anti-whaling nations -- Oman, South Africa and Switzerland -- took part in the conference. "Because the situation is so difficult, one should take any chance to discuss" it, Swiss delegate Bruno Mainini said. "I think for the public it is already difficult to understand why an organisation like the IWC, that meets once a year, is not able to be more productive and efficient," he said.

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