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Japan planning to leave International Whaling Commission if commercial bans not lifted

JAPAN is considering withdrawing from the International Whaling Commission if no progress is made towards easing an international ban on commercial whaling, its fisheries minister said today.

The IWC - the international body that regulates whaling - will gather for its annual meeting next week in Agadir, Morocco. The meeting is expected to seek a compromise between pro- and anti-whaling countries, which may include allowing commercial whaling on a limited scale.

A moratorium has been in place for 25 years, but countries such as Japan, Norway and Iceland hunt whales under a variety of exceptions to the ban. An IWC proposal was circulated in April to allow limited commercial hunts for 10 years.

Japan has frequently threatened to pull out of the IWC in the past. Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Masahiko Yamada was asked on Tuesday if Tokyo would quit the IWC if progress was not made towards easing the ban on commercial whaling.

"I am considering various options," Yamada said. "This is really the final stage, and we're not sure how things are going to turn out."

Anti-whaling states, including Australia and New Zealand, have called a proposed whaling quota system unacceptable and demanded an end to Japan's hunt in Antarctic waters.

Japan's whaling program includes large-scale scientific expeditions to the Antarctic, while other whaling countries mostly stay along their coasts.

Opponents call Japan's scientific research hunts a cover for commercial whaling.

The comments were the first by Yamada to reporters since assuming his post a week ago. He was one of several cabinet ministers appointed by new Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan.