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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 August 2007, 01:34 GMT 02:34 UK
Canadian leader makes Arctic trip
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Mr Harper is stepping up Canada's Arctic involvement
Canada's prime minister has embarked on an Arctic tour, one week after Russia staked its claim to the disputed region by planting a flag at the North Pole.

Stephen Harper will spend three days visiting the area in an attempt to boost his country's sovereignty claims.

He is expected to announce the location of Canada's first Arctic military base.

Mr Harper's trip had been planned months ago, but correspondents say it has taken on fresh significance after Moscow's actions.

Melting polar ice has led to competing claims over access to Arctic resources.

Mr Harper's spokesman, Dimitri Soudas, told the Associated Press: "Our government has an aggressive Arctic agenda."

He said Canada had three priorities in the region - economic development, environmental protection and national sovereignty.

Mr Harper, who will travel to Canada's Northwest Territories, has already announced plans to build six naval patrol vessels to secure the Northwest Passages.

Canada says the waterways - which link the Pacific and Atlantic oceans - are in its territory, but the US insists they are international waters.

Competing claims

In a unique expedition last week, Russian explorers planted a flag on the seabed 4,200m (14,000ft) below the North Pole.

The move drew derision from Canada, with Foreign Minister Peter MacKay likening it to tactics used in the 15th Century.

"You can't go around the world and just plant flags and say: 'We're claiming this territory,'" he said.

Several countries with territories bordering the Arctic - including Russia, the US, Canada and Denmark - have launched competing claims to the region.

The competition has intensified as melting polar ice caps have opened up the possibility of new shipping routes in the region.

Current laws grant countries an economic zone of 200 nautical miles beyond their land borders.

This zone can be extended where a country can prove that the structure of the continental shelf is similar to the geological structure within its territory.

The North Pole is not currently regarded as part of any single country's territory and is therefore administered by the International Seabed Authority.

1) North Pole: Russia leaves its flag on the seabed, 4,000m (13,100ft) beneath the surface, as part of its claims for oil and gas reserves
2) Lomonosov Ridge: Russia argues that this underwater feature is an extension of its continental territory and is looking for evidence
3) 200-nautical mile (370km) line: Shows how far countries' agreed economic area extends beyond their coastline. Often set from outlying islands
4) Russian-claimed territory: The bid to claim a vast area is being closely watched by other countries. Some could follow suit

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