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International relations

Abe strikes distinctly softer tone on northern island dispute

Shift in language at annual rally aims to tame Russian sensitivities

Japan hopes to reach a deal with Russia on the handover of at least two of the four southernmost Kuril Islands. (Photo by Keiichiro Asahara)

TOKYO -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe trod more carefully than usual in an annual speech on a territorial dispute with Russia, apparently seeking to avoid antagonizing Moscow as the two sides pursue a long-awaited postwar peace treaty.

The address on Thursday steered clear of potentially inflammatory language used in the past, such as "the attribution of the four northern islands" -- a Japanese term for the southernmost Kuril Islands, which are administered by Russia and claimed by Japan. Abe spoke at a government-backed national rally held in partnership with municipalities and private organizations.

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