A group of Hong Kong activists who were deported from Japan after sailing to disputed islands in the East China Sea have returned home in a fishing trawler to a hero's welcome.
The seven activists arrived in Hong Kong, China's special administrative region, on Wednesday and were part of a 14-person group that was arrested and expelled after slipping past the Japanese coast guard a week ago to reach the islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Dianoyu in China.
The other seven were sent back by air on Friday.
Japan and China have been feuding for decades over the island chain, near potentially huge maritime gas fields.
The activists' trip to Senkaku was a form of protest against Tokyo's claim over the islands.
Al Jazeera's Robert McBride, reporting from Hong Kong, said the activists' vessel "did somewhat of a victory tour around the harbour" before it was met by a "thunderous applause from a crowd of several hundred people".
Our correspondent also described the trip to the islands as "historic" since most groups, which attempt to make to make the journey annually, do not succeed.
"They [activists] are either stopped by bad weather or intervention from the authorities. The Chinese government is not too keen on groups of its citizens going off and causing international disputes around other parts of Asia," he said.
|A Japanese surveillance vehicle flies around the disputed Senkaku islands in the East China Sea in this file photo [Reuters]
"So normally they try to find ways of preventing them, either by breaches of maritime regulations or whatever.
"On this occasion they tried to stop this vessel setting off just over a week ago. Four police were apparently on the boat but couldn't get into the wheelhouse of the vessel.
"The activists had locked themselves in, so they took the decision to let the vessel go and this time they managed to get through and make their historic landing."
On Sunday, thousands of protesters took to the streets in Chinese cities, with demonstrators overturning Japanese cars and shouting slogans denouncing Japan's claims to the islands.
The demonstrations came after 10 Japanese nationalists swam to the islands on Sunday in a tit-for-tat move
following the landing by Chinese activists.
Both China's government, which faces a once-in-a-decade leadership change later this year, and Yoshihiko Noda, Japan's prime minister, whose ratings have fallen since he took office last September and may be forced to call an election soon, are under domestic pressure to take a tough stance over the islands.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies