Monday, December 17, 2007

New Australian PM vows to defend whales

Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd pledged Thursday to protect whales in a bitter dispute over Japan's hunting of the giant mammals. Rudd's centre-left Labor party, which won elections last month, had called while in opposition for Australia to send the navy to monitor Japan's whaling fleet.Japan's ships set sail last month on the country's largest hunt yet which for the first time since the 1960s will kill humpbacks, one of the most popular animals for Australian whale watchers."We take seriously Australia's international obligations on the proper protection of whales," Rudd told reporters in Bali, Indonesia, where he was taking part in a UN conference on climate change on his first foreign trip as premier."We are therefore actively considering the appropriate measures for the collection of data which could assist in any future legal case which the government may embark upon," he said, as quoted by the Australian Associated Press.He said he would offer further details next week but that he was not ruling out using "Australian assets" to document Japan's whaling.Japanese officials earlier scoffed at Labor's suggestions of sending the navy against the whalers, arguing the catch is fully legal.Rudd's defeated conservative predecessor, John Howard, also rejected involving the military, saying it was best to work through diplomacy.Japan plans to kill more than 1,000 whales in the Antarctic on its annual hunt using a loophole in a 1986 global moratorium on commercial whaling that allows "lethal research" on the giant mammals.Japan makes no secret that the meat goes on dinner plates and accuses Western nations, usually among its closest allies, of cultural imperialism.Only Norway and Iceland defy the whaling moratorium outright.Rudd, who took office last week, also laid a wreath at the Australian consulate in Bali in memory of victims of 2002 and 2005 bombings that killed a total of 92 Australians on the popular resort island.Rudd earlier said he discussed stepping up security cooperation when he met this week with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

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