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Row continues over Chinese captain

China has demanded an apology and compensation from Japan after it released a Chinese fishing boat captain held more than two weeks after a collision near disputed islands that triggered the worst spat between the Asian neighbours in years.

Japanese authorities released Zhan Qixiong, 41, early on Friday morning and he was flown home by chartered plane to Fuzhou, the capital of China's south-eastern Fujian province, the offical Xinhua News Agency reported.

Though his release is intended to defuse a diplomatic spat sparked when Japan arrested the captain after his trawler collided with two Japanese patrol boats near islands in the East China Sea claimed by both countries, tensions remain high.

China's Foreign Ministry issued a statement repeating its "strong protest" that the boat crew was detained and sought an apology from Japan.

"It is unlawful and invalid for Japan to detain, investigate or take any form of judicial measures against the Chinese fishermen and trawler. The Japanese side must make an apology and compensation for this incident," the statement said.

Mr Zhan's release came after intense pressure from China, which suspended ministerial-level dialogue with Tokyo and postponed talks on developing disputed undersea gas fields.

Earlier this week, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao sternly threatened "further action" against Japan if it did not immediately release the captain.

On Friday, Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan, who was in New York for a UN summit also attended by Mr Wen, called for calm discussions between China and Japan in the wake of the tense territorial spat.

But an editorial on Saturday in Japan's nationally circulated Yomiuri newspaper criticised the captain's release as "a political decision that put the mending of relations as a priority" and urged the Japanese government to fully explain its decision to the people.

"Needless to say, the Senakaku Islands are part of Japan's territory. The government must continue to assert this view both domestically and abroad," it said.

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