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Angst About Japan Island Dispute Builds in China

Policemen block demonstrators near the Japanese consulate during a protest in Shanghai September 16, 2012.

Policemen block demonstrators near the Japanese consulate during a protest in Shanghai September 16, 2012.

BEIJING – Thousands rallied Sunday in the streets of dozens of cities across China as public anger with Japan over disputed East China Sea islands swelled. In view of the protests Japan’s prime minister has urged Beijing to guarantee the safety of Japanese citizens and businesses in China.

Outside the Japanese Embassy in the Chinese capital, protests were impassioned and brimming with angst. Some yelled “Japan, get the hell out of China!” and others chanted “Go China, go China!”

A heavy, double barricade of metal fences and flanks of security forces made it difficult for protesters to repeat Saturday’s attempt to storm the embassy’s front gate.

Authorities allowed protesters organized into large groups to march past the front of the embassy. When they did, many pelted the gate with water bottles, fruit and sometimes stones and glass.

One of the protesters, a woman from China’s central Xian province says she joined the rally out of a sense of duty. She says she came to show that the Diaoyu islands belong to China, adding that the Japanese like stealing things.

Last week, Japan announced a $26-million deal to nationalize the disputed island chain, whose waters contain rich fishing grounds and potential oil reserves. The islands, called Senkaku in Japan, had been owned by a Japanese family for several decades.

Japanese officials say the move was meant to make sure no individual could trigger a confrontation with China by developing the uninhabited islands. China called Japan's purchase a violation of Chinese sovereignty.

Anti-Japanese protests have been held in dozens of cities across China in recent days.

Security forces in the southern city of Shenzhen hurled tear gas canisters at protesters. Some tossed them back at authorities and a police vehicle was overturned.

China’s state-run Xinhua news agency says in Guanzhou protesters broke into a hotel next to Japan’s consulate, smashed windows and damaged a Japanese restaurant.

Ning Mengmeng, a 24-year old hairdresser in Beijing says he and others in his salon put up a sign that reads: “No Japanese or dogs allowed.”

Ning says it is very simple. He hates Japanese. He says that maybe it is because of what he has seen in movies and what older people have told him about how the Japanese tyrannized Chinese people in the past.

He adds that while he does not advocate using violence to protest against Japan, he may stop going to Japanese restaurants and start boycotting its goods.

The Chinese government is walking a fine line between allowing the public to reasonably vent its anger and ensuring protests do not turn violent.

The Japanese Embassy says protesters in China have set fire to Japanese factories, sabotaged assembly lines, looted stores and illegally entered Japanese businesses.

Speaking with Japanese public broadcaster NHK on Sunday, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said Japan deplores the violence and urged both sides to share information and maintain close contacts.