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Iceland Walks Out of Whaling Meeting - 2002-05-21

Iceland's delegation has angrily walked out of the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission being held in Shimonoseki, home of Japan's whaling fleet. Iceland's acrimonious departure came after its application for membership was rejected for the second time in two years.

Iceland accuses the International Whaling Commission of behaving illegally and says it will no longer remain an observer to the group. Whaling Commissioner Stefan Asmundsson also indicated that Iceland might consider resuming commercial whaling without the IWC's approval.

Iceland's request for full membership was rejected Monday, the first day of the group's annual meeting. It is being viewed as an unexpected victory for the IWC's anti-whaling members, such as Australia and the United States. Iceland has had non-voting observer status since 1992, when it left the organization to protest its whaling ban.

Pro-whaling nations such as host country Japan and Norway had hoped that Iceland would be admitted and help them gain a simple majority in the IWC. That would have strengthened their campaign to overturn the ban on commercial whaling, in place since 1986. Without a simple majority, it is doubtful that the pro-whaling bloc can even bring the proposal up for a vote before the gathering wraps up on Friday.

Japan and Iceland both argue that abundant whale species are consuming their fish stocks and that the mammals should be hunted within limits. The United States and others reject this claim.

Tsutomu Takebe, Japan's Agriculture Minister, says he still hopes to win greater support for the traditions of hunting whales and eating their meat, which is considered a delicacy in Japan. "It is wrong for others to say that eating whale meat is bad," he said, adding that "Japan is gradually gaining understanding from other member countries and that it is important to continue to ask for their acceptance."

Japan has until Friday to muster support for an expansion of what it calls its research whaling program. Critics say Japan's whale research program is a way of skirting the ban on killing whales for commercial purposes, and on Tuesday, rejected Tokyo's request to hunt 50 minke whales in nearby waters.

Tokyo will also attempt to block proposals for new whale sanctuaries in the South Pacific and South Atlantic Oceans, where the killing of whales would be prohibited.