Whaling ban 'bought off by the Japanese'

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The resumption of commercial whaling for the first time in almost 20 years could come a step closer this week amid concerns that Japan has "bought" enough votes to overturn an international ban on hunting.

The resumption of commercial whaling for the first time in almost 20 years could come a step closer this week amid concerns that Japan has "bought" enough votes to overturn an international ban on hunting.

The annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC),in Sorrento, Italy, promises to be among the most contentious ever. The build-up has been dominated by fears that Japan may finally be able to secure a majority of countries prepared to overturn the moratorium on commercial whaling, in effect since 1986.

The IWC comprises 55 members, though not all of them vote, and Japan may need as few as 23 votes to carry the day. Last year, its resolution on hunting minke whales drew 19 votes in favour.

Although a simple majority would not overturn the moratorium - three-quarters of members must support the move for this to happen - it would strip the ban of its credibility and could enable Japan to undermine the Southern Ocean Sanctuary, which protects Antarctica. Japan kills more than 600 whales a year in the name of scientific research at present, using an IWC loophole.

Before every meeting, Japan seeks to persuade countries, in return for aid money, to join the IWC and vote against the ban. Since 2000, at least nine nations have been recruited, including Mongolia, Morocco, Gabon, Benin and Grenada. New members this year include Ivory Coast, which is believed to support Japan, Mauritania and Tuvalu.

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