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By Shane Green Japan Correspondent

SHIMONOSEKI, Japan (May 24 2002 – The Age)---The United States and Russia have rounded on Japan after Tokyo effectively stopped the Alaskan Inuit and the Russian Chukotka people from hunting whales they need to survive.

In what developed into a serious diplomatic incident, several countries declared the outcome at the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission a "black day."

The quotas have always been agreed upon without a vote. But Japan this year refused to accept the consensus. The 30 to 14 outcome failed to reach the three-quarter majority required.

After the shock move - described by the Australian delegation as incomprehensible - the commissioners met privately to try to negotiate a settlement.

Even if an agreement is reached, Japan's tactics signal a new, aggressive approach as it attempts to have the two-decade ban on commercial whaling lifted, while further antagonizing the anti-whaling nations.

"What has happened here is that 14 countries have taken food away from people that are likely not to survive without the subsistence quotas," U.S. delegation head Rolland Schmitten said outside the conference. "It is very easy for governments to play their games, but it's not easy to feed their people."

Mr. Schmitten said Washington and Moscow would be asked to work with Japan to resolve the issue. "You cannot leave people without food," he said.

A statement from the Chukotka people said that for them, the actions of some of the delegates "were like the actions that happened on September 11."

Japan defended its decision to vote down the whale hunt by linking it to the decision earlier in the week rejecting its plan for its coastal communities to hunt 50 minke whales. "Japan is tired of asking year after year for 50 minke from an abundant stock for our traditional coastal whalers only to have the U.S. vote against it," a Japanese commissioner, Masayuki Komatsu, said.

"Yet we have always supported the Alaskans taking almost 280 bowhead whales. Well, this year the U.S. delegation has a message to take home -- end the hypocrisy."

Greenpeace said the Japanese action was the most blatant example of Japan's vote buying to manipulate the commission.

"Aboriginal peoples are being held hostage so the government of Japan can further its push to resume commercial whaling," a Greenpeace campaigner said.

For additional reports from The Age, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Age.

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