Russians protest, Japanese activists discuss territorial dispute

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YUZHNO-SAKHALINSK/TOKYO, February 7 (RIA Novosti, combined reports) - Residents in the regional center of the Russian island of Sakhalin protested Tuesday Japan's claims on four islands in the Kuril chain in the latest episode of a territorial dispute between the two countries that dates back 60 years.

As Japan marks the "Day of the Northern Territories", as it calls the fours islands, Russian protesters held a silent picket outside the Japanese Consulate General's building in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, along with offices of Japanese firms in the Michinoku Bank building.

The dispute dates back to the end of World War II, when the Soviet Union claimed the islands under Allied agreements. Japan has consistently stated that this was illegal and the row has prevented Russia and Japan from signing a peace treaty officially ending the war.

Meanwhile, activists from a Japanese movement calling for the return of Northern Territories gathered in Tokyo Tuesday for an annual conference. Foreign Minister Taro Aso told the meeting that the long-standing dispute remained the main problem in Japanese-Russian relations.

The minister said: "We intend to sign a peace treaty [with Russia] as soon as possible after the dispute over the sovereignty of the four islands is resolved."

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who was expected to participate in the conference this year after he had missed the previous year's, failed to attend again due to his busy schedule.

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