Anti-Japan protesters rally in Beijing

Sports cars bearing anti-Japanese messages drive past the Japanese Embassy in Beijing as protests continue over the disputed islands.

BEIJING - Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Japanese embassy in Beijing on Thursday, singing the Chinese national anthem and waving flags, to condemn Tokyo's purchase of a disputed island chain.

The latest demonstration came after the Japanese government this week nationalised three islands in a chain it administers and refers to as Senkaku, but which are claimed by China, where they are known as Diaoyu.

"Japan through illegal methods has forcibly occupied our country's territory... this is the behaviour of a thief," demonstrator Xu Xiaolei told AFP.

Police watched as small groups of demonstrators entered Japanese restaurants to shout that the islands belonged to China.

Protests in China are often swiftly dispersed by authorities, but in some cases they are allowed to proceed.

More than 20 cities have seen anti-Japanese protests in the past month and the car of the Japanese ambassador to China was targeted in Beijing when a man ripped the flag off the vehicle.

China dispatched two patrol ships to the archipelago to "assert its sovereignty" on Tuesday.

The territorial dispute has since dominated Chinese media, with state television and all major dailies highlighting Beijing's condemnation of Tokyo's acquisition.

At least one Chinese travel agency said it was no longer accepting bookings for trips to Japan.

"State sovereignty comes above everything," the Sichuan Kanghui International Tour Company said in a statement posted online on Wednesday announcing the suspension of group bookings.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said Wednesday that Beijing would "never yield an inch" over the disputed islands, state-run news agency Xinhua reported.

On Thursday it quoted China's commerce vice minister saying the purchase would "inevitably" have a negative impact on trade ties.

"If Chinese consumers, in a reasonable manner, express their positions and views against Japan's violation of China's territorial sovereignty, I think it is within their rights to do so and it is understandable," Jiang Zengwei said.

The islands, which are also claimed by Taiwan, sit near an important shipping lane and nearby waters are believed to harbour valuable mineral resources.

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