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China demands boat captain is freed

A Chinese fishing boat that set off a diplomatic spat by colliding with two Japanese patrol boats has returned to China, though its captain remained in Japanese custody despite Beijing's repeated demands for his release.

The Foreign Ministry said on its website that it had called in Japan's ambassador to China on Tuesday and lodged another formal protest against the arrest of the captain after his ship and the Japanese patrol boats collided last week near islands claimed by both countries.

It marked the sixth time the ambassador has been called in over the incident.

The dispute has touched off a war of words between the world's second and third-largest economies and prompted anti-Japanese activists in Taiwan - which also claims the islands - to sail to the area in a protest mission.

The official Xinhua News Agency said the Chinese trawler returned to a port in Quanzhou city in China's Fujian province early on Wednesday.

The 14 crew were released on Monday but a Japanese court has granted prosecutors permission to keep the captain, Zhan Qixiong, in custody until September 19 to decide whether to formally indict him on charges of obstructing public duties.

Beijing sees the case against the captain as a provocation against its claim of sovereignty over the disputed islands, called Diaoyu in Chinese and the Senkakus in Japanese.

About 120 miles east of Taiwan, the islands are controlled by Japan, but also claimed by Taiwan and China.

They are surrounded by rich fishing grounds and are sometimes occupied by activists from the countries involved.

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