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Street protests, vandalism highlight growing friction between China and Japan

BEIJING—Boisterous anti-Japanese protesters Saturday hurled stones, eggs and plastic bottles at Japanese diplomatic installations in Beijing in a vandalism-tinged protest certain to heighten frictions between East Asia's two biggest powers.

Police in riot gear urged calm but largely stood by as thousands of protesters shattered windows at a diplomatic guardhouse, and bombarded the Japanese ambassador's residence with eggs.

The protest came amid growing distress in China over Japan's recent bid to gain a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. It also follows months of rising tensions, fueled by disputes over undersea oil deposits in the East China Sea, and a recent flare-up over the way Japanese textbooks portray the nation's wartime record.

It marked the biggest public protest in the tightly guarded Chinese capital since 1999, when angry Chinese gathered near the U.S. Embassy after warplanes bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade during the NATO-led war over Kosovo.

Swarming police routinely break up even the tiniest demonstration in Beijing, so Saturday's large-scale protest appeared to have a government imprimatur.

The state Xinhua news agency said marches swelled to at least 10,000 people.

In Tokyo, officials summoned Chinese envoy Cheng Yonghua and demanded that his government protect Japanese citizens living in China.

Anti-Japanese marches, which lasted for more than 12 hours, began in the morning near Beijing's university district, stretched through the day as protesters marched on Japan's diplomatic installations and ended in the evening with a traffic-snarling crawl along Beijing's busiest boulevard, the Avenue of Everlasting Peace.

Shouting nationalist slogans, the protesters, most of whom were university students, demanded that consumers boycott Japanese-made goods. Many waved Chinese flags and carried anti-Japanese banners.

By early evening, protesters had broken windows of two Japanese restaurants. Protesters also threw stones or harassed motorists of Japanese-brand vehicles they encountered on the road, and vandalized sidewalk advertising of Japanese products.

"Down with Japan!" and "Smash Japan's dream of obtaining a Security Council seat!" protesters chanted as they approached the Japanese ambassador's residence in southeast Beijing in late afternoon.

"I want Chinese to stop buying Japanese products," said Luo Jilun, a 24-year-old university student, as he broke off from the march briefly.

One banner in English described Japanese as "evil," "nasty," and "excrement."

University students said they surreptitiously organized the protest through the Internet and cellular phone text messages without government approval.

"Let everyone in the world know that we Chinese are still the great dragon of the east," said a student e-mail that circulated widely in the run-up to the protest.

But the widespread presence of riot police at every protest site, keeping journalists at a distance, closing down streets, and ushering through buses for the protesters, suggested that the government welcomed the protest.

China, which carefully controls the Internet, has permitted a recent online petition campaign against Japan's efforts to win a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. Web sites say the campaign has gathered 22 million supporters.

Both China and the United States last week came out against U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan's plan for quick enlargement of the Security Council.

Annan has called on U.N. members to adopt one of two proposed plans to expand the Security Council from 15 to 24 seats. Germany, Brazil, India and Japan have joined forces in seeking permanent seats.

Japan, the world's No. 2 economy, pays more dues to the United Nations than any other country except the United States.

China, which holds a permanent Security Council seat along with Russia, Britain, France and the United States, opposes a permanent seat for Japan, which it views as too closely allied with the United States.

Festering issues bedevil relations between China and Japan despite increasing trade ties between the two rivals. China has surpassed the United States as Japan's largest trading partner, and more than 18,000 Japanese companies have invested in the country.

New tensions ignited last Tuesday, when Japan's Education Ministry approved a textbook revision that China and South Korea say glosses over Japanese atrocities prior to and during World War II.

Last weekend, anti-Japanese protests erupted in the southern cities of Shenzhen and Chengdu, where protesters smashed windows at a Japanese-owned supermarket, Ito-Yokado. Afterward, a trade association of Chinese chain stores called for a boycott of products made by Japanese companies that it claims support the textbook revision.

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(Knight Ridder special correspondent Emi Doi in Tokyo contributed to this report.)

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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