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Japanese Visitors' Flight To Disputed Russian-Held Islands Canceled Due To Weather

A woman walks past a statue of Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin in Yuzhno-Kurilsk, the main settlement on the Southern Kurile island of Kunashir. (file photo)

A flight scheduled to take former Japanese residents to two Russian-held islands in the Pacific Ocean has been canceled because of heavy fog conditions on one of the islands, Japanese Foreign Ministry officials say.

The ministry press service on June 19 said, "The flight has been canceled due to bad weather. We are now considering the possibility to arrange a new flight."

The visit was set to begin on June 18 to the disputed islands, which Tokyo calls the Northern Territories and Moscow calls the Southern Kuriles.

It would have marked the first time Japanese citizens were allowed to travel by air to the island chain. Previous Japanese visitors were forced to travel by ship under a complicated procedure.

The flight with 70 people aboard by Russian airline Aurora was delayed on June 18 and June 19 because of heavy fog at the Mendeleyevo airport on Kunashir Island in the chain.

The visitors were going to "pay respects" to the graves of family members, officials said.

Although Russian-held, Japan still claims the islands, which the Soviet Union seized in the closing days of World War II.

Lingering tensions over the islands have prevented Japan and Russia from signing a peace treaty to formally end the war.

In April, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he had agreed with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to start flights for former Japanese residents to "visit graves of ancestors" on the islands.

With reporting by TASS and Jiji Press