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Japan's Antonio Inoki headed to North Korea for anniversary

By Elizabeth Shim
Japan's Antonio Inoki headed to North Korea for anniversary
Japanese wrestler-turned-politician Antonio Inoki is traveling to Pyongyang this week. File Photo by Franck Robichon/EPA

Sept. 6 (UPI) -- Retired Japanese wrestler Antonio Inoki is headed to North Korea, according to multiple Japanese press reports.

Inoki, an independent politician and member of Tokyo's parliament, arrived in Beijing on Thursday en route to North Korea, NHK and Kyodo News reported.

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The former wrestler, who has visited Pyongyang multiple times, said he is headed to North Korea because he anticipates change.

"North Korea will change dramatically in the future," Inoki said. "I want to hear their intentions, and tell their story."

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The Japanese Diet member also said he wanted to leverage the power of sports diplomacy to improve relations between the two countries.

"People used to say sports and politics are different, but now it is the opposite. Through sports, we can hold a variety of conversations," Inoki said, adding he wanted to use sports to pursue North Korea-Japan exchange.

Inoki will be in attendance at the 70th anniversary of North Korea's national founding day on Sept. 9.

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The former pro-wrestler, who was suspended from parliament for 30 days in November 2013 because of an unauthorized trip to North Korea, is expected to meet with Ri Su Yong, the vice chair of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea. He is to return to Japan on Sept. 11.

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The Japanese politician has previously met with top North Korean officials, including Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly Kim Yong Nam in 2014, and with Ri in 2017.

On Wednesday, Tokyo's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga called for restraint.

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"We ask citizens to refrain from visiting North Korea," Suga had said.

North Korea has no plans to improve ties with Japan, the Asahi Shimbun reported Wednesday.

North Korean officials attending an international conference in Shenyang, China, said they had no interest in engaging with Japan, according to the report.

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