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Japan PM heads to Europe amid North Korea tensions
[TOKYO] Japan's prime minister on Friday headed to the Baltic states and other European nations as he seeks to drum up support for his hawkish stance on North Korea.
Despite a recent cooling of tensions in the run-up to the Winter Olympics in South Korea, Shinzo Abe has insisted on "maximising pressure" on Pyongyang over its nuclear and missile programmes.
Mr Abe will visit Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Romania, the first sitting Japanese leader to visit those nations.
"I want to confirm our cooperation on North Korean and other urgent issues the international community faces," he told reporters before he left.
Mr Abe, who will meet the heads of the six states on his tour, also noted that representatives from more than 30 companies would accompany him to develop business ties.
Japan is keen to raise its profile in the region as China bolsters its ties there.
All six nations Mr Abe is visiting are among the 16 Central and Eastern European countries that hold an annual summit meeting with China.
China has been pushing its massive US$1 trillion "One Belt, One Road" initiative, which seeks to build rail, maritime and road links from Asia to Europe and Africa in a revival of ancient Silk Road trading routes.
Mr Abe is due to return to Japan on Wednesday.