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Japan denies blame for Yeltsin staying away

TOKYO (Reuter) - Japanese leaders yesterday tried to shift the blame being heaped on them by domestic and Russian critics for President Boris Yeltsin's abrupt decision to call off his visit to Tokyo. The chief government spokesman, Koichi Kato, felt it necessary to tell reporters for the second time in 24 hours that domestic problems, not Japan's unbending demand for the return of four Russian-held islands, forced Mr Yeltsin to postpone the trip.

'We plan to convey this to our foreign allies,' said Mr Kato. 'I think they will understand.' Mr Yeltsin caught Japan by surprise on Wednesday when he cancelled the visit four days before he was due to arrive.

It had become evident that the visit was doomed to failure because of differences over the islands, off northern Japan. Moscow calls them the southern Kuriles, Tokyo says they are its Northern Territories. Mr Yeltsin clearly blames Japan for the postponement. 'Japan has been too categoric about the islands,' he said yesterday.