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Anti-whaling activists to be arrested in Japan

Japanese police are pursuing arrest warrants against three activists from the U.S.-based animal rights group Sea Shepherd for allegedly attacking Japanese whaling ships last year, an official said Monday.

Kyodo News agency quoted unnamed Tokyo Metropolitan Police investigators as saying authorities had applied to a Japanese court for warrants for the three, and that police planned to put them on an international wanted list.

It was unclear when the warrants would be issued.

Public broadcaster NHK said police sought to arrest two Americans, ages 41 and 30, and one Briton, 28.

Japanese police had identified the three men via video footage of them throwing flaming projectiles that damaged a Japanese whaling ship in February 2007, NHK said. The report did not name the suspects.

Police refused to comment Monday, but Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura confirmed the report, saying there was no excuse for the anti-whaling activists' attacks.

"Regardless of a difference of opinion, it is unacceptable that those who are involved (in whaling) get injured ... or face life-threatening dangers," Machimura said. He did not give any details of the case.

Sea Shepherd's activists aim to disrupt Japan's annual whaling operations through high-seas confrontation with their own boats.

In February 2007, the anti-whaling group's boat and a Japanese whaling vessel collided twice in Antarctic waters during clashes near a pod of whales. Around the same time, Sea Shepherd activists also dumped a foul-smelling acid made from rancid butter on another whaling ship, slightly injuring two crew members and prompting Japanese officials to label them "terrorists."

Japan kills about 1,000 whales a year under a scientific whaling program that Tokyo says provides crucial data for the International Whaling Commission on populations, feeding habits and distribution of the mammals in the seas near Antarctica.

The hunts are allowed by the International Whaling Commission, but the Sea Shepherd and environmental groups have long condemned the hunts as a pretext for keeping commercial whaling alive after the practice was banned by the commission in 1986.

The Japanese have hunted whales for centuries, and whale meat was widely eaten in the lean years after World War II. However, it has plunged in popularity in today's prosperous Japan. While still on the menu in a few upscale Tokyo restaurants, the meat is only eaten regularly in small coastal communities.

Sea Shepherd could not immediately be reached for comment, but the group says it tries to avoid any physical injury to whalers.

In June, the group announced plans to try to disrupt Japan's 2008-09 whaling season in the Antarctic.

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