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Japan begins first whale hunt since UN court ruling

Published on Apr 26, 2014 12:05 PM

AYUKAWA, Japan (AFP) - A Japanese whaling fleet left port on Saturday under tight security in the first hunt since the United Nations' top court last month ordered Tokyo to stop killing whales in the Antarctic.

Four ships departed from the fishing town of Ayukawa in the north-east, marking this season's start to a coastal whaling programme not covered by the International Court of Justice's landmark ruling - which found Japan's Southern Ocean expedition was a commercial activity masquerading as research.

Some observers had predicted the Japanese government would use the cover of last month's court ruling to abandon what many have long considered the facade of a scientific hunt.

But Tokyo's decision to continue whaling was likely to set off a new battle with critics who had hoped the ruling would bring an end to a slaughter that the Japanese government has embraced as part of the island nation's cultural heritage. Some Japanese politicians have derided criticism from abroad as little more than cultural imperialism by the West, while locals in Ayukawa expressed fears that the court's decision could ultimately ruin their livelihoods.

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