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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Japanese PM Candidate Calls for Close Ties

TOKYO -- The front-runner in the race to become Japan's next prime minister called for deeper ties with Russia and the resolution of a territorial dispute that has plagued the two countries' relationship since World War II, a news report said Wednesday.

"I want to develop Japanese-Russian relations further, and to pursue diplomacy that resolves the Northern Territories problem and produces a peace treaty," Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said in a stump speech in Hokkaido in northern Japan, the Kyodo News agency reported.

Abe also said he wanted to create a framework to prevent a repeat of an Aug. 16 incident in which the Russian coast guard killed a crew member of a Japanese crab fishing boat that was allegedly poaching near the disputed islands, Kyodo said.

Officials of both countries claim the boat was in their waters when Russian guards opened fire, killing a Japanese crab fisherman. Russian officials said the officers fired a warning shot after the Japanese boat failed to heed orders to halt and that the shot accidentally killed the fisherman.

Officials in the Hokkaido regional office of Abe's Liberal Democratic Party could not immediately confirm his reported comments.

Abe is expected to defeat fellow party members Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki and Foreign Minister Taro Aso in Sept. 20 balloting to pick the new LDP leader, who normally becomes the party's candidate for prime minister.

The LDP candidate is almost certain to become prime minister because of the party's dominance in the parliament.

Russia and Japan have never signed a peace treaty formally ending their wartime hostilities because of the dispute over four islands called the Northern Territories by Japan and the Kurils by Russia. The islands were seized by the Soviet army near the end of World War II.