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Tuesday, 21 May, 2002, 07:14 GMT 08:14 UK
Iceland quits whaling meeting
Japanese whale poster
Japan wants limited commercial whaling to resume
A delegation from Iceland has walked out of the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in Japan after its application for membership was rejected for the second year running.

We can't sit here and appear to be a party to this illegal act

Iceland Whaling Commissioner Stefan Asmundsson
The country, which wanted to join the IWC while reserving the right to ignore the moratorium on commercial whaling, has accused the organisation of behaving illegally.

"It has gone too far," Iceland Whaling Commissioner Stefan Asmundsson said. "We cannot accept it."

In a further blow to pro-whaling nations, Japan has lost a vote to expand its coastal catch of minke whales.

Bitter divisions

Clive Myrie, the BBC correspondent at the meeting, says the whole conference has being marked by in-fighting, acrimony and bitterness.

The pro-whaling nations - led by Japan and Norway - have repeatedly clashed with those against a resumption of commercial killing.

The pro-whaling lobby argues that global whale stocks mean a certain amount of commercial whaling should be allowed.

But many European Union countries, America and others believe stocks are too low for full whaling to resume.

Pro-whaling nations cheered in support when the Icelandic delegates decided to leave, claiming they were the victims of a dirty tricks campaign led by a number of anti-whaling nations.

"We can't sit here and appear to be a party to this illegal act," said Mr Asmundsson.

He hinted that Iceland might consider resuming commercial whaling without the IWC's approval, but he said the country would review the situation and explore its options first.

Anti-whaling victory

Monday's decision to exclude Iceland was an unexpected victory for the anti-whaling camp in the first vote to be taken at this year's meeting of the IWC.

Japan has been leading the drive for a resumption of commercial whaling, banned 15 years ago, at the meeting - which is held in the port of Shimonoseki in western Japan, home to the country's whaling fleet.

The vote over Iceland's membership was seen as a key test of sentiment as the conference got under way.

Pro-whaling countries had tried to overturn last year's ruling that Iceland could not join until it agreed to accept the IWC's moratorium on commercial whaling.

Pro-whaling campaigners make their case at the meeting
They were defeated by 25 votes to 20 despite their optimism that this time they could muster the necessary majority.

Iceland has had non-voting observer status since its delegates walked out of an IWC meeting 10 years ago to protest against the commission's anti-whaling stance.

Its return to full membership could have given the pro-whaling nations a majority.

The UK Fisheries Minister, Elliot Morley, said the result was better than expected and a very good sign, but he cautioned that anti-whaling countries could face tougher resistance on other issues.

Stormy days ahead

Japan is also seeking to block proposals for new whale sanctuaries in the South Pacific and South Atlantic.

It says some species of whales are so abundant they are threatening fish stocks.

The United States has described the claim as false and an attempt to make the whale a scapegoat for over-fishing.

Six countries have joined the organisation in recent weeks and four are thought to back Japan's position.

Environmental groups have accused Japan of buying the votes of new members with development aid.

The BBC's Clive Myrie in Japan
"The debate over commercial whaling is a bitter one"

Sea change?
Should the ban on whaling be lifted?
See also:

20 May 02 | Science/Nature
08 May 02 | Science/Nature
25 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
06 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
04 Oct 01 | Science/Nature
27 Jul 01 | Science/Nature
20 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
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