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Chilean Whale Sanctuary at International Whaling Commission, calling on Japan to release the "Tokyo Two"

greenpeace, Santiago de Chile, 24 June 2008

More than 150 Chilean children today celebrated the creation of a Chilean whale sanctuary by President Michelle Bachelet, with chairman William Hogarth cutting the ribbon to launch the "whale kingdom" outside the International Whaling Commission meeting in Santiago. The young "Ocean Defenders" also joined tens of thousands of people worldwide calling on Japan's government to release two Greenpeace whale activists currently held without charge in Tokyo for exposing a stolen whale meat scandal within the Japanese government's Southern Ocean whaling programme.

President Bachelet signed the Chilean whale sanctuary bill in the former whaling town of Quintay, joined by 20 young Greenpeace Ocean Defenders project members, and government ministers from four countries; Australian environment minister Peter Garrett, New Zealand's environment minister Steve Chadwick, Lord Rooker, UK Minister for Sustainable Food and Farming and Animal Health and Roberto Dobles Mora, Costa Rican Minister of Environment and Energy.

"The creation of the Chilean sanctuary is a great step forward for whale conservation in Latin America, especially as the IWC is currently discussing the creation of a South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary", said Greenpeace Chile whales campaigner Samuel Leiva. "Now it's up to the IWC members to take president Bachelet's example, and modernize the organisation into one that works for the whales, not the whalers."

Japanese activists Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki were arrested in Tokyo on Thursday, during a heavy-handed police operation involving raids on the Greenpeace Japan office and the homes of a number of Greenpeace staff. Both had already offered to present themselves to police and had submitted written statements describing how they obtained evidence of a major whale meat theft scandal. This evidence included a box of whale meat that had been smuggled off the whaling factory ship, Nisshin Maru, disguised as crew members' personal possessions for black market sale, at the expense of the Japanese taxpayer.

"It's appalling that Japan's delegation is attending an IWC meeting aimed at healing division within the organisation, while the Japanese government holds Junichi and Toru in custody for exposing the whale meat scandal and corruption at the heart of the whaling industry." said Karen Sack, Head of Oceans for Greenpeace International. "Japan needs to end its sham scientific whaling programme in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary now, if it is to retain international credibility".

Greenpeace has launched an international on-line petition directed at Japan's Prime Minster, Fukuda, appealing for him to intervene to end this heavy-handed charade and order the release of the activists. Within 48 hours of the petition's launch, some 76,000 people had sent messages to Japanese embassies worldwide.

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