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Whaling Commission Votes Down Japanese Proposal - 2002-05-23

The International Whaling Commission has decided against a Japanese proposal that might have led to commercial whaling. But a proposal the United States and Russia backed also was voted down in the organization's contentious annual meeting.

Only 16 of the IWC's 45 voting members backed the Japanese proposal to begin setting up a program to manage commercial whaling. The loss was another setback in Japan's effort to be allowed to hunt whales commercially.

Japan has battled for years against the IWC's ban on commercial whaling. Many countries, including the United States and other Western nations, have said whale populations are too small to allow commercial whaling. Japan, Iceland, and a few other nations have said some species are plentiful enough to allow some whaling.

Earlier, Japan led the voting when IWC members killed requests from the United States and Russia to allow aboriginal groups in those countries to kill a limited number of whales for food.

The IWC's annual meeting has turned particularly argumentative and divisive this year. The meeting is being held in the former Japanese whaling hub of Shimonoseki, 825 kilometers southwest of Tokyo.

Japan and other opponents of the ban say the U.S. proposal is hypocritical. American officials defend their support of so-called aboriginal whaling, saying it has no commercial element. Japan is irate because its own bid to take 50 minke whales in its coastal waters was rejected by the commission Tuesday.

John Bowler, a whale campaigner for the environmental group Greenpeace, accuses Japan of playing politics. "It is certainly the first time that this has happened, where the aboriginal subsistence quota has been refused. We are certain that this was done by the Japanese and those countries whose votes they have bought to block anything happening until Japan is allowed a quota of 50 minke whales for coastal whalers," he said.

The IWC meeting is running a day behind schedule and has been dominated by power struggles between pro and anti-whaling camps. It was derailed over a debate on Iceland, which walked out after its bid for full membership in the IWC was rejected.