Taiwan protests as Japan holds fishing boat captain

TAIPEI, June 12 Thu Jun 12, 2008 7:17am BST

TAIPEI, June 12 (Reuters) - Dozens of Taiwan protesters including local officials converged on the de facto Japanese embassy on Thursday, burning flags and shoving police as Japan held the captain of a Taiwan fishing boat that sank in disputed waters.

They shouted slogans and called for Japan to release the captain, compensate the Taiwan vessel's owner and apologise for its handling of the incident. The magistrate of Taiwan's largest county and family of the crew were among the protesters.

"We hope the two sides can generally get along well, but Japan needs to apologise for this rude action," said Hsieh Hsiu-chi, spokeswoman for Taipei County, where the vessel is based.

Two protesters burnt flags, others ripped them apart and local TV showed small groups jostling with police.

China considers Taiwan, which Japan colonised for half a century up to 1945, as its sovereign territory. Japan recognises China, not Taiwan, where it does not have a formal embassy.

The fishing boat collided with a Japanese coastguard vessel on Tuesday and sank off what Japan calls the Senkaku islets, which are controlled by Japan but also claimed by China and Taiwan. The 16 people aboard were taken onto the Japanese vessel, the coastguard said.

The eight uninhabited islands, 2,000 km (1,200 miles) southwest of Tokyo, are known as the Tiaoyutai in Taiwan and the Diaoyu islands in China. They are also thought to lie near undersea oil and gas reserves.

Japan has returned all 13 recreational fishermen and two of the crew to Taiwan, a Japanese official said. The captain was being held for investigation but was expected to be released.

Japan-Taiwan ties are normally warm, though informal, but the disputed isles issue flares up periodically because Taiwan boats have historically used the fish-rich waters.

Taiwan's foreign ministry on Thursday "expressed opposition" to Japan and asked that the two sides talk again because "there has been no way to reach consensus despite 15 rounds of fisheries negotiations to date", it said in a statement. (Reporting by Ralph Jennings; Editing by Nick Macfie and Alex Richardson)

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