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Chinese protesters storm Japanese embassy in Beijing

Anti-Japan protests have broken out across China, with thousands of people mobbing the Japanese embassy in Beijing. Tensions between the two countries have risen over a disputed chain of islands in the East China Sea.

Thousands of protesters hurled rocks and bottles at the Japanese embassy in Beijing on Saturday, as tensions between Asia's two largest economies escalated over a row involving a disputed chain of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.

Riot police sought to stop the angry mob from breaching the embassy, as chanting protesters burned Japanese flags.

"Return our islands! Japanese devils get out," some of the protesters shouted. Reuters news agency reported that one protester held a sign reading: "For the respect of the motherland, we must go to war with Japan."

Protests were being held in at least a dozen other Chinese cities, with only a few reports of clashes, according to the Associated Press. The Japanese foreign minister, Koichiro Gemba, cut short a trip to Australia and returned to Tokyo early Saturday to address the situation.

"I'd like to underscore that we should never let the situation escalate," Gemba told reporters on Friday. "We have strong hopes the Chinese government will respond to the situation in an appropriate and also a calm manner."

Long-running dispute

The Japanese government on Tuesday announced its purchase of the Senkaku island chain from its private Japanese owner. Beijing also claims the islands, which its calls the Diaoyu, and dispatched surveillance vessels to the area on Friday in response to Tokyo's announcement.

The current row began in August when Japan detained a group of Chinese activists who had landed on the island chain. Although the islands are uninhabited, they are close to potentially large oil and gas reserves.  

China's Communist Party normally does not allow protests to take place. But Beijing is under popular pressure, fuelled by historical memories of the Japanese occupation of China during World War Two, to take a tough stand against Tokyo.

The Chinese tabloid Global Times, published by the Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily, called on Beijing to hold its ground against Tokyo.

"China should be confident about strategically overwhelming Japan," the tabloid wrote, adding that the Chinese armed forces should "increase their preparation and intensify their deterrence" against Japan.

slk/jlw (AP, AFP, Reuters)