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Anti-Japan protest draws hundreds in SW China

Anti-Japan protest draws hundreds in SW China

Protesters burned a Japanese flag outside the country's consulate as hundreds marched Tuesday in the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing, the latest flare-up triggered by a territorial dispute over a chain of islands.
The Chinese government has so far been unable to stop the protests, which have popped up in cities across the country as word spread online. Beijing has said the protesters' reasons for marching were understandable, but voiced its disapproval of "illegal and irrational acts."
About 700 to 800 people marched in Chongqing on Tuesday afternoon, shouting, "We love China" and "Boycott Japanese goods," said a security guard surnamed Peng in one local residential area. The demonstrators were flanked by police, he said.
"They sang the national anthem and shouted that people should boycott Japanese goods," Japanese consul Kiyomi Seno said.
The protesters also burned a Japanese flag in front of the building where the consulate is located, though it took several tries because of heavy rain. News photographs showed protesters, many appearing to be students, holding umbrellas and clustering around the flag while police watched over the scene.
The protesters left soon after and there was no danger of clashes because of heavy security surrounding the consulate, Seno said.
There were no reports of arrests or violence. A duty officer in the political department of Chongqing's Public Security Bureau said he wasn't clear on details about the demonstration.
The protests were sparked by a collision last month between a Chinese fishing boat and Japanese government patrol vessels near a chain of disputed islands _ which set off a diplomatic tussle between the two Asian powers that has now subsided.
Protests started soon after the collision and have spread to cities across the country, including Changsha, Deyang and Baoji where authorities had ordered mandatory classes this past weekend in a failed effort to prevent students from taking part in rallies.
It was not known whether there were more rallies planned for this week.
China's Internet censors have been quickly deleting any references to anti-Japan protests on websites, blogs and Twitter-like microblogs. Protest organizers have been skirting the restrictions by posting images with details of the rallies on popular instant messaging program QQ.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu on Tuesday reiterated the government's stance that the protests should stop.
"The outrage of the Chinese people over recent Japanese statements and actions is understandable," he said, but added that the government "disapproves of illegal and irrational acts."
The concern has reached the highest levels of government, with Zhou Yongkang, the Communist Party's top law-and-order official, speaking out about the protests for the first time.
"We must strengthen propaganda and opinion work to guide the public to voice its patriotic aspirations in a rational and orderly way according to the law, protecting social and political stability," Zhou was quoted as saying in a report Tuesday in the People's Daily newspaper.
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Associated Press writer Christopher Bodeen and researcher Xi Yue contributed to this report.