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TAIJI, Japan (Reuters) - One of the stars of "The Cove," the controversial Oscar-winning documentary about a grisly annual dolphin hunt, on Tuesday boycotted a debate set up by the town made famous in the film, calling it "a sham."
Taiji, a town in western Japan, remains a center of controversy in the wake of the film. Several NGOs camped out around Taiji say at least two dolphin hunts have taken place since the hunting season began in September.
Media had been told in advance of the debate, the first of its kind in the town, that they would be able to film only part of the event. Reuters TV was able to film the whole event.
Organizers asked media to pre-register and only allowed questions submitted in advance to be raised. Several Japanese newspapers were barred from entering the local community center to cover the debate, Japanese media said.
"The mayor has ordered severe restrictions on the Japanese and Western media representatives'... ability to freely cover this event," said Ric O'Barry, one of the stars of The Cove, after leading media away from the community center.
"This conference has turned out to be a total sham," O'Barry added, though he cautioned that this did not mean he wanted to be associated with people advocating stronger tactics to oppose the hunt.
But anti-hunting activists were able to express their views.
"Dolphins are not fish. They shouldn't be referred to as fishery," said Jeff Pantukhoff, of the Whaleman Foundation.
"Dolphins breathe air. They have feelings. They have emotions. They have self-awareness."
Taiji shot to global notoriety after the release of The Cove, which was directed by former National Geographic photographer Louie Psihoyos and follows eco-activists who struggle with Japanese police and fishermen to gain access to the secluded cove where the hunt takes place.
Japan has long maintained that killing and eating whale is a cherished culinary tradition, and conducts annual hunts under the name of research whaling.
It says that killing dolphins is not banned under any international treaty and that the animals are not endangered, adding that dolphins need to be culled to protect fishing grounds.
"Utilizing marine resources efficiently for our lives is what we've been pursuing through our history. In that, it's obvious that each side holds different views on this subject," said Katsutoshi Mihara, president of the Union Against a Total Ban on Whaling at IWC (the International Whaling Commission).
"We believe our way is right, and it's not pleasant to be forced to accept your one-sided values."
The movie has met with fierce opposition in Japan from groups who say it is "anti-Japanese" and an affront to traditional culture. Its Japanese opening in July was greeted with shouting protests from flag-waving demonstrators and a scuffle.
Writing by Olivier Fabre and Elaine Lies; editing by Paul Casciato