Japan demands islands from Russia
Japanese leaders have renewed demands that Russia return four islands seized in 1945. Japan has yet to sign a peace treaty ending World War II with Russia due to the dragging dispute over the four Kuril islands off its northern coast, which Tokyo calls the Northern Territories.
"The government has the consistent opinion to try to sign a peace treaty as soon as possible after solving the territorial dispute," Foreign Minister Taro Aso told a rally of 1600 people in the Japanese capital.
"The dispute over the Northern Territories is the largest issue that gets in the way between Japan and Russia," Aso said.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi skipped the meeting, with his office saying he was busy with sessions of a parliamentary budget panel. Last year he did not turn up citing illness.
Yoshiko Sakurai, a journalist known for her nationalist views, criticized Koizumi's absence.
"That fact Koizumi isn't here today would send a wrong message to Russia," she told the rally. "Russia is carefully watching our actions. They may assume Japanese leaders don't care much about this issue."
In November, Russian President Vladimir Putin paid his first visit to Tokyo in five years and met Koizumi, stirring speculation that the two leaders would move to solve the long sticking territorial issue.
But the summit made no progress, with Putin renewing a proposal rejected by Japan to hand over two of the four disputed islands.
"It's essential to have all the four islands returned to Japan," Tsutomu Takebe, secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, told the rally.
"Here I pledge that the LDP will take the initiative to show its protest to Russia," he said.
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