Dozens of Japanese celebrities tucked into a huge banquet of whalemeat recently in a pointed protest against meat-eating Westerners who seek a wordwide ban on whale hunting.

"Let's eat whatever's delicious!" shouted Kiichi Murayama, deputy speaker of the lower house of parliament.Dinner speakers condemned as cultural imperialism the proposed ban and praised whaling as a solution to the world's protein shortage - calling it environmentally sounder than raising cattle or pigs.

"The issue of whaling is presented as a cultural war between Western civilization and barbarism," said Fishery Agency official Kazuo Shima. "Those who oppose whaling say those who eat whales are barbarians.

"That is discrimination," Shima said. "We must not lose the battle."

The feast in a Tokyo hall was attended by politicians, Socialists, Buddhists and the ruling conservatives, and hundreds of bureaucrats and celebrities.

It was meant to show support for a traditional Japanese food and industry, and was held just two weeks before the annual conference of the International Whaling Commission opening on June 29 in Glasgow.

The 37-member IWC will discuss a proposal, supported by the United States, Britain and New Zealand, to extend a worldwide ban on commercial whaling that took effect in 1985.

Japan, Iceland and Norway want the commercial ban lifted. Environmentalists, who roundly and often emotionally condemn Japan for continuing to hunt whales, want it made permanent.

At the banquet, the guests dipped their throwaway wooden chopsticks into raw whale, fried whale, whale bacon, barbecued whale and noodle soup with whale.