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Australia to tackle Japan on whaling at UN world court

THE HAGUE: Australia is to fire the opening salvoes in a legal battle before the United Nations' highest court in June aimed at stopping Japan's whaling research programme in Antarctica.

"The International Court of Justice... will hold public hearings in the case concerning whaling in the Antarctic, Australia versus Japan, from Wednesday 26 June," the Hague-based ICJ said in a statement on Thursday.

Australia took Japan to court in May 2010 alleging that "Japan's continued pursuit" of a large-scale whaling hunt, which Japan calls scientific research, put the Asian nation in breach of international conventions and its obligation to preserve "marine mammals and the marine environment".

In Sydney, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus welcomed the long-waited opportunity to end Japan's whaling program "once and for all".

"Australia will now have its day in court to establish, once and for all, that Japan's whaling hunt is not for scientific purposes and is against international law," Dreyfus said in a statement.

"Australia wants this slaughter to end."

Canberra asked ICJ judges to order Japan to stop its whale research programme called "JARPA II", the second phase of its whale hunt in Antarctica under a special permit.

"Australia requests the court to order that Japan cease implementation of JARPA II, revoke any authorisation, permits or licences" allowing whaling under the programme, it said.

Australia also wants the ICJ to obtain guarantees from Tokyo that it will not undertake any further research until it conformed "to its obligations under international law".

Australia's lawyers will argue the case on the opening day, followed a week later by Japan, on July 2.

A ruling in the matter however, may not be handed down for several months.

Japan last week announced its whaling mission in the Southern Ocean was a "record low" this year, blaming "unforgivable sabotage" by activists.

The hunt netted 103 Antarctic minke whales, the lowest since "research whaling" began in 1987, blamed on the actions of the Sea Shepherd conservation group.

Japan's annual whale hunt has long drawn criticism from activists and foreign governments, but Tokyo defends the practice, saying eating whale is a culinary tradition.

Canberra and New Zealand -- who will also make a submission at the ICJ hearings -- have been outraged by the hunt, with Australian Environment Minister Tony Burke saying last week Japan's latest whale tally "is 103 whales too many".

Established in 1945, the ICJ is the UN's highest judicial body and settles disputes between states.