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Japan welcomes new Australian PM despite whale row


Japan on Thursday said it looked forward to working with the new Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd, but vowed to keep fighting Canberra over a high-profile whaling dispute.

"Our nation and Australia have traditionally enjoyed friendly relations," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the government's top spokesman, told a regular press briefing.

"We hope to further enhance the relationship between Prime Minister (Shinzo) Abe and Mr Rudd."

However, hours earlier, Suga said that Tokyo would continue fighting an Australian legal bid to end Japan's whaling programme, a rare source of discord between the two countries.

Canberra has taken Tokyo to the International Court of Justice in The Hague in an attempt to stop an annual whale hunt which has long drawn criticism from campaigners and foreign governments.

Japan says the hunt is necessary to research whale populations although it makes no secret that meat from the mammals ends up on dinner tables across the country. Tokyo says criticism of its whaling programme is an attack on its culinary traditions.

"Our research whaling is... conducted legally," Suga said. "We will make our case. We are confident about our argument."

Rudd, 55, returned to power in a snap leadership ballot on Wednesday, three years after he was ousted by Julia Gillard, who became Australia's first female premier.