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U.S. boycott dismays Japanese

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TOKYO — The government expressed regret Thursday over a U.S. decision to protest the expansion of Japanese whaling by boycotting a U.N. environmental conference in southern Japan.

"The conference has nothing to do with whaling," said Takeshi Ogawa, an Environment Agency official. "The topic is not even included."

The conference, sponsored by the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, opened Thursday in Kitakyushu on the island of Kyushu. The commission's 51 member nations and organizations are expected to discuss key environmental issues in the region at the gathering.

The boycott comes amid Japanese whaling in the northwest Pacific Ocean carried out as part of a scientific program allowed under a ban on commercial whaling.

The State Department notified Japan's ambassador to Washington of the boycott on Wednesday, Japan's Environment Agency said. U.S. Embassy officials here on Thursday confirmed that the boycott was meant to protest Japan's expansion of whaling, but refused further comment.

This year's program invited harsher protests because Japan is hunting sperm and Bryde's whales for the first time in 13 years, in addition to hundreds of minkes. Japan hunted 400 minke whales last year.

Japanese officials say there are enough sperm and Bryde's whales to sustain a small hunt. Supporters also say overpopulation of whales could even damage the world's seafood supply.

Washington, though, has warned of possible economic sanctions against Japan over the expanded hunt.

Japan gave up commercial whaling under an international moratorium in 1986 but has continued hunting whales as part of a scientific research program since 1987.

Antiwhaling activists say Japan is using the research whaling as a loophole for commercial hunting.