Wrestler-turned-politician takes on Iraq

TOKYO -- Former professional wrestler Antonio Inoki is off to Baghdad on Round 2 of his bid to pin down freedom for Japanese held hostage by Iraq, a published report said Friday.

Inoki, the only member of the Sports and Peace Party with a seat in Japan's parliament, will attempt to organize a sport and music festival in the Iraqi capital as a goodwill gesture in a bid to win release of some 220 Japanese held in Iraq, the Mainichi Daily News said.


Fellow members of the Diet, Japan's parliament, are displeased with Inoki's personal diplomacy, it said. He traveled to Baghdad last month to try securing the hostages' freedom, but came back empty-handed.

Some parliament members complained that Inoki, 47, who once fought an exhibition bout with former heavyweight boxing champ Muhammad Ali, should quit grandstanding and take his seat in the Diet.

The legislature is debating a highly controversial bill to create a peacekeeping force to be sent to the gulf.

Inoki's absence was termed 'impertinence' by some legislators, the newspaper said. They were incensed that he had not even submitted a required leave-of-absence application, it said.


But Inoki does not think much of his colleagues' response to the gulf crisis.

He said before leaving Tuesday that the Japanese government was not doing enough, especially for the 139 Japanese held in Iraq's 'human shield.'

On his first self-appointed mission, Inoki took kimonos and electronic dancing flowers for relatives of Saddam Hussein. But he got little in return except heavy media coverage back home.

Inoki, whose real first name is Kanji, will return from his current visit Monday, the report said.

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