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Australia Calls for Restraint Between Whalers, Activists

The Australian government has called on Japanese fishermen and international anti-whaling activists to exercise restraint after the latest confrontation between the two groups in Antarctic waters.

Anti-whaling activists Friday threw stink bombs and other objects onto the Japanese ship Nisshin Maru, as it continued its annual whaling expedition in the Southern Ocean. One anti-whaling activist, Paul Watson, says he was shot by a bullet from the Japanese ship during the clash.

Japan has denied the allegation. In a statement to the Australian Foreign Ministry, Japan's fisheries department says coast guard escorts on the whaling ship fired flash grenades, but no bullets.

The anti-whaling activists aboard Netherlands-based vessel, the Sea Shepherd, have been harassing Japanese whalers for weeks in an attempt to stop what they call a cruel industry.

Australia has promised to try to stop Japan's whaling program, but has avoided any confrontation with Japan on the issue.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura sharply criticized anti-whaling activists, saying that the stink bombs were in fact butyric acid, which stings the eyes. He told reporters that hurting people to protect whales was unforgivable.

Japan considers whaling a cultural tradition. It abandoned commercial whaling under international pressure in 1986. But using a loophole in the international moratorium, which allows whaling for scientific purposes, it kills up to one thousand whales a year.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.