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Abe strikes conciliatory tone on island dispute ahead of meeting with Putin

Published on Feb 7, 2014 4:07 PM

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe struck a conciliatory tone on Friday at an unusually low-key annual rally demanding the return of islands occupied by Russia, hours before he left for the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Mr Abe will attend the opening ceremony of the Games in southern Russia later on Friday where he will also meet President Vladimir Putin, the latest step in an increasingly close working relationship.

"I will hold the fifth summit with President Putin tomorrow," Mr Abe, who took power in December 2012, told the annual gathering demanding the return of the Northern Territories, four islands and some islets Japan claims but Russia administers as the Southern Kurils.

"I am resolved to address the negotiation patiently so as to reach the final goal of solving the issue of the Northern Territories," he said, calling it "the most concerning matter left between Japan and Russia".

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