Japan 'Preparing to Deport Activists' in Island Row

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staff
Japan is preparing to deport a group of 14 Chinese, including activists, boat crew and journalists, who sailed to disputed islands, reports say.

The group was brought to Okinawa for questioning after reaching the disputed islands

Japan is preparing to deport a group of 14 Chinese, including activists, boat crew and journalists, who sailed to disputed islands, reports say.

Police have questioned the group and they are being handed to immigration authorities, Japanese media said.

The group sailed from Hong Kong, reaching islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China on Wednesday.

The case has sparked a diplomatic row and a number of small protests outside Japanese diplomatic missions.

Japan has decided to deport the activists, Kyodo news agency said, citing government sources.

Nine members of the group were sent to the immigration bureau on Thursday night, while five activists who landed on one of the crop of islands will be transferred there on Friday, Japanese broadcaster NHK reported.

Peaceful resolution

China has repeatedly for the activists' immediate and unconditional release since they were detained on Wednesday and brought to the island of Okinawa on Thursday.

Small groups of protesters in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong demanded that the activists be released. They held signs that declared the disputed islands part of China and shouted anti-Japanese slogans.

The group set sail for the islands on Sunday. Japanese coastguard vessels surrounded the boat as it approached the islands - which are controlled by Japan - but seven of the activists jumped overboard and swam towards the island.

Two returned to the boat but five were detained on land. All 14 were eventually detained.

It is the first time non-Japanese nationals have landed on the islands since 2004.

Both Japan and China lodged formal protests with each other over the incident.

The United States had urged the two nations to resolve the conflict peacefully.

"Any kinds of provocations are not helpful in that regard," said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

Islands row

Tensions between China and Japan have been rumbling in recent months over the islands in the East China Sea, which Taiwan also claims.

Largely uninhabited, they are close to strategically important shipping lanes, offer rich fishing grounds and are thought to contain oil deposits.

The disputed islands have caused ties to freeze between the two countries in the past.

In September 2010, relations between China and Japan plummeted after the arrest of a Chinese trawler captain near the islands.

The captain was accused of ramming two Japanese patrol vessels in the area, but Japan eventually dropped the charges against him.