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Japan said to have tentative deal to buy disputed islands

KYOTO, Japan — The Japanese government has struck a tentative agreement to buy three uninhabited islands that are part of a chain at the center of a heated territorial dispute with China, a person close to the talks said Thursday.

A government negotiator got a verbal agreement from the islands’ owners, a family living in suburban Tokyo, according to the person knowledgeable about the talks, who asked not to be identified because the negotiations were still in a sensitive stage. He said the particulars of the deal, including a price, had yet to be decided, and that the deal could still fall through.

A deal would allow the government to nationalize three of the five major islands in the East China Sea chain, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China. It would not directly affect the more crucial issue of sovereignty over the islands, which are already administered by Japan but claimed by China and also Taiwan.

While the dispute has been simmering for decades, emotions flared in April after Tokyo’s outspoken rightist governor, Shintaro Ishihara, proposed that his city buy the islands. That started a series of landings last month on the islands by nationalists, first from China and then Japan; the Japanese landing contributed to anti-Japanese protests in China.

—Martin Fackler, The New York Times

Scores of migrants die after boat sinks off Turkish coast

ISTANBUL — At least 58 migrants drowned in the Aegean Sea just off the Turkish coast after the fishing boat that was carrying them sank early Thursday, local officials told a Turkish news agency.

Forty-six others who were on the boat, including the two-man crew, got to shore safely, and have been detained, the semiofficial Anatolian News Agency reported, adding that two of the passengers were hospitalized. Fifteen of the dead were apparently locked in a cabin on the sinking boat, and it was not clear why, the officials said.

The boat, about 39 feet long, was carrying more than 100 Syrians, Iraqis and Palestinians who were apparently trying to migrate to the European Union when it struck rocks and foundered near the Turkish township of Menderes in Izmir province, the agency said. The boat was only about 160 feet from shore at the time.

In remarks to Turkish reporters, Ardahan Totuk, the deputy governor of Izmir Province, declined to say where the boat was headed. Turkey’s Aegean coastal region and the Greek islands a short distance offshore are a frequent route for illegal immigrants seeking refuge in Europe, often by paying smugglers to transport them clandestinely by sea. The Greek island of Samos is less than 20 miles from where the boat sank.

—Sebnem Arsu, The New York Times