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Saturday, August 22, 2015, 13:51

Japan protests Russian PM's visit to disputed island

By Agencies

TOKYO - Japan on Saturday lodged a protest over Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's visit to one of four Pacific islands it also claims, and which have strained ties between the neighbors since the end of World War II.

Tokyo and Moscow have been involved in a decades-old dispute over the islands north of Hokkaido, which are known in Russia as the Kuriles, and referred to as the Northern Territories in Japan.

Medvedev arrived Saturday on the islands for a 12-day working visit, Russian media reported.

Medvedev plans to take part in a national youth forum on the Kuril Island of Iturup and visit a few construction sites that are part of Russia's Kuril development program mapped out until 2025, Sputnik reported.

The report said this is the first time that the 12-day Iturup National Youth Education Forum has been held on the disputed islands.

All of the Kuril Islands have been administered by Russia since the end of World War II, but Japan also claims sovereignty over four of them.

After Medvedev visited Iturup island on Saturday, senior Japanese foreign ministry official Hajime Hayashi lodged the protest with the Russian ambassador to Japan, Evgeny Afanasiev, over the telephone, the Japanese ministry said.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida will delay a visit to Russia that had been arranged for the end of August, the Nikkei business daily said, but did not elaborate.

Tokyo also lodged a formal complaint last week with the Russian Embassy in Japan over Medvedev's planned visit to the islands. The Russian Foreign Ministry said that Russian officials would continue working visits to the Kuril Islands despite Japan's protests.

Russia maintains Tokyo's claims demonstrate its "blatant disregard for the commonly-accepted outcome of the Second World War."

Medvedev's visit is likely to have an adverse impact on Russia's relations with Japan, which had been looking to arrange a visit this year by Russian President Vladimir Putin for summit talks with Abe, Kyodo news agency said.

Russia ordered a quicker build up of military facilities in the disputed islands in June, following comments by Putin in April that he was ready to discuss the issue, while blaming Japan for a lack of dialogue.

Energy interests drive the effort for closer ties between Japan and Russia.

Russia plans to at least double oil and gas flows to Asia in the next 20 years and Japan has been forced to resort to huge fuel imports to replace lost nuclear energy, after its reactors were shut down because of the 2011 Fukushima disaster caused by a massive earthquake and tsunami.

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