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Japan poised to release pro-China activists

Japan is preparing to deport 14 pro-China activists who were detained after several of them sailed to disputed islands in the East China Sea. The case has sparked a diplomatic row between the two nations.

All 14 activists were handed over to immigration authorities on Friday, local media reported, with Japan preparing their immediate deportation.

Five of the Chinese activists were detained on Wednesday for breaking immigration laws after using a Hong Kong fishing vessel to land on the disputed islands. Nine others, including a Hong Kong reporter and a cameraman, were later arrested by the Japan Coast Guard.

The uninhabited isles, which are known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China, are claimed by both nations. According to local media the detainees assert that the islands belong to China, meaning they didn't need passports to enter them.

The incident has heightened tensions between China and Japan, with Beijing issuing a series of demands for their immediate release. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun reportedly telephoned his Japanese counterpart Sasae Kenichiro on Thursday to request that Japan "immediately and unconditionally" release the detained activists.

Rows over the islands, which are near potentially rich gas reserves, have already been the focus of several major diplomatic rows. In September 2010, Japan arrested the Chinese captain of a fishing trawler which had collided with Japanese vessels near the islands. The captain was detained for more than two weeks, sparking the worst showdown between the two counties in recent years.

ccp/lw (AFP, dpa, Reuters)