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Japan Deports Seven Chinese Activists

March 26, 2004

TOKYO (AP) _ Japan deported seven Chinese activists on Friday, two days after they landed on a remote island claimed by both countries, triggering protests in China.

The activists were to fly from the southern island of Okinawa to Shanghai, Justice Ministry spokesman Toshio Inami said.

Public broadcaster NHK showed the activists boarding the China Eastern Airlines flight at Okinawa’s Naha airport. Airline spokeswoman Fumie Ishigami said the flight left shortly after.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi acknowledged earlier that authorities wanted to avoid aggravating relations between the two countries.

``While dealing with this in accordance with our laws, we had also made decisions from the broader standpoint of avoiding a negative impact on relations between Japan and China,″ Koizumi said at a news conference. ``We instructed authorities to act on the basis of that fundamental policy.″

Relations between Tokyo and Beijing were already tense over Koizumi’s annual visits to a war shrine, which some Asian nations say glorifies Japan’s militaristic past.

In China, state-run newspapers on Friday trumpeted demands that Japan release the activists. About 50 protesters outside the Japanese Embassy in Beijing held up banners claiming the islands as China’s territory.

Japanese coast guard spokesman Masayoshi Iramina said vessels guarding the uninhabited islands were on heightened alert, but refused to say how many ships had been added to regular patrols.

Japanese authorities questioned the seven Chinese activists after detaining them for their allegedly illegal visit to the isle of Uotsuri.

The China Federation for Defending the Diaoyu Islands, which sent the first batch of activists, said it planned another trip to the island on Sunday with more than 30 people.

Japan’s National Public Safety Commission chief, Kiyoko Ono, said the Chinese activists had violated immigration laws and stressed that authorities would prevent any others, including Japanese, from reaching the island.

On Thursday, police stopped a Japanese right-wing extremist group from leaving for the island from nearby Okinawa.

``Our government disapproves of landings by Japanese,″ Ono said. ``It goes without saying that we will reject foreign visitors, too.″

Japan took control of the islands, located between Taiwan and Japan, when it defeated China in an 1895 war. The United States had jurisdiction over them after World War II until 1972, when they were handed back to Japan. China says its claims to the islands date back centuries.

On Thursday, Beijing called the arrests ``a challenge to Chinese sovereignty.″ Tokyo said the activists trespassed on Japanese land despite warnings to stay away.

The Chinese activists left the southeastern province of Zhejiang on a trawler Wednesday, and reached the disputed island aboard smaller boats. The activists said they wanted to draw attention to China’s claim over the island chain.

China repeated its demand Friday that Japan release the seven detained activists.

``We strongly demand that the Japanese fully understand the seriousness of the situation and ensure the safety of the Chinese and release them unconditionally,″ the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Meanwhile, protesters in Beijing and Hong Kong denounced the arrests and burned Japanese flags, prompting a strong protest from Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, who is to visit China next month.

``The flag burning was extremely regrettable,″ Kawaguchi told reporters.

Update hourly