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Demonstrators from the French Fur Torture group use stuffed toy seal pups Thursday in Paris, even though the hunting of pups was banned in 1987. ((Michel Euler/Associated Press) )

Supporters of the seal hunt have launched a common front to defend the practice as some European politicianspush for a ban on seal-product imports.

The Canadian initiative includes Inuit and Newfoundland hunters arguing on behalf of their livelihood in The Hague, where hundreds of Dutch opponents of the hunt will stage a demonstration Thursday.

In Ottawa, hunt supporters Thursday outlined plans to counter what they called the misinformation used byanti-sealers.

The Ottawa media briefing took place as protesters launched the International Day of Action Against the Canadian Seal Hunt, whichthey said willinclude demonstrations in 36 cities around the world and nine in Canada.

"We're going to be proactive in support of this industry," Tom Rideout,
Newfoundland and Labrador fisheries and aquaculture minister, told reporters inOttawa.

"We as people have got to get up and tell our story," said Robert Cahill from the Fur Institute of Canada.

In The Hague, counter-protester Aaju Peter of Iqaluit told CBC News that the Inuit rely on the seal hunt. "We don't have other options," she said. And the commercial seal hunt is no different. "I live on what I can produce. I live on what I sell," she said.

Rideout said the hunt was worth $55 million to the provincial economy last year, and is vital for families in remote communities, where it can represent up to a third of their income.

EU exec plans study of hunt

The pro-sealing push is aimed at European initiatives ranging from bans in individual countries to a European Union proposal that could see an EU-wide rule that would prevent 27 countries from buying Canadian seal products.

The EU's executive commission plans astudy tosee if the hunt is humane. But it has also opposed theban on imported seal products, which the European Parliament wants on the grounds that the hunt is inhumane.

The Dutch government is on the verge of outlawing the import of Canadian seal products, in particular skins. The move follows similar laws enacted by Belgium. Meanwhile, Germany and Italy are also musing about following suit. There is no such law in Britain, but the government recently said it would support a Europe-wide ban.

Hunt supporters said it is sustainable, humane and vital to the Inuit and Atlantic communities that have few ways to make their livings. And it may be necessary to control fast-growing seal herds.

The supporters also attacked the anti-hunt protesters. They are so disconnected from the natural world that "they think foodcomes from the supermarket," Peter said.

They're hypocritical because they're not concerned about the genuine environmental problemof the disappearance offish off the Atlantic coast, and the practices in European abattoirs or European hunting, the hunt supporters said.

And the protesters rely on "disinformation and lies," Senator Céline Hervieux-Payette said in Ottawa. The hunting of baby whitecoat seals has been banned since 1987, but whitecoats still figure in protests.

Rideout said the groups use the pictures to raise money "to line their own pockets."

The counter-protesters in The Hague — a delegation of two Inuit Canadians and a Newfoundlander dressed in full seal-skin regalia — plan to confront the protesters, and thenhead to the Dutch parliament to present a petition from Canadians arguing the law banning seal product imports should not go into force.

With files from the Associated Press