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Shooting of Japanese Fisherman Triggers Dispute With Russia

In the first such incident in half a century, a Japanese fisherman in disputed waters has been shot dead by Russian maritime border guards. Japan's Foreign Ministry has lodged a diplomatic protest and is demanding apologies and compensation, but Russia says the Japanese fishing boat involved in the incident was at fault.

A diplomat row broke out between Japan and Russia on Wednesday following the shooting death of a Japanese fisherman in waters claimed by both countries.

Russia confirms its border patrol shot dead a Japanese fisherman earlier in the day aboard a vessel suspected of illegally fishing for lucrative crab. Mitsuhiro Morita, 35, was one of four men aboard the Japanese vessel. The other three have been taken into custody by the Russians.

The incident took place near the island chain the Russians call the Kurils, and the Japanese call the Northern Territories. The islands were seized by the Soviet Union in the closing days of World War II, and have been under Russian control ever since, but Japan still claims them.

Foreign Minister Taro Aso, after summoning Russia's deputy ambassador, told reporters in Tokyo that the killing of the Japanese fisherman was an outrageous act.

Aso says he lodged a strong protest with the acting head of the Russian Embassy, Mikhail Galuzin, telling him the shooting was inexcusable and calling for the quick release of the crew and vessel.

Galuzin, speaking Japanese, told reporters at the Foreign Ministry that the vessel was apprehended in Russian waters, in accordance with Russian law.

Galuzin says the Russian border patrol fired warning shots at the suspected poachers' vessel, and was not intending to hit any of the crew.

Russian media say the five-ton vessel was acting suspiciously and had no identification markings. The reports say several tons of crab, some 25 crab traps and 10 kilograms of octopus were found on board, and the Japanese crew had thrown some of its catch overboard while being pursued.

Wednesday's incident is the first since 1956 in which a Japanese fisherman has been shot dead by Russian border guards, although there have been numerous incidents of Russian authorities in that area apprehending Japanese fishing boats and their crews.

The Japan Coast Guard says the Number 31 Kisshin Maru was fishing near Kaigara island, off the eastern tip of Japan's northern island of Hokkaido.

The Soviets attacked Japan 61 years ago this month, and took control of the northern Japanese islands. The area remains under Russian control, but claimed by Japan, and the dispute has prevented the two countries from signing a peace treaty formally ending the Second World War.