Chess icon leaves Japanese detention center

Updated: March 23, 2005, 11:51 PM ET
Associated Press

USHIKU, Japan -- Chess legend Bobby Fischer was freed Thursday from a Japanese detention center and immediately headed for flight to Iceland, bringing to a halt efforts to deport him to the United States.

Fischer, sporting a long, gray beard, jeans and a baseball cap pulled down low to cover his face, left the immigration detention center in this city on Tokyo's outskirts early Thursday morning.

The eccentric chess icon was taken into custody by Japanese immigration officials in July when he tried to leave the country using an invalid U.S. passport.

As he was taken away in a black limousine provided by the Icelandic Embassy, his vehicle was mobbed by a few dozen photographers and reporters. Fischer did not emerge from the car or make any comment.

Fischer was accompanied by his fiancee, Miyoko Watai, the head of Japan's chess association, and an official from the Icelandic Embassy. They were headed for the airport to try and catch an afternoon flight to Denmark en route to Iceland, where he has been granted citizenship.

Fischer was characteristically defiant as he arrived at the airport.

"I won't be free until I get out of Japan. This was not an arrest. It was a kidnapping cooked up by Bush and Koizumi," he said referring to President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Fischer, who has been held in detention since his arrest, claims his U.S. passport was revoked illegally and sued to block a deportation order to the United States, where he is wanted for violating sanctions imposed on the former Yugoslavia by playing an exhibition match against Russian Boris Spassky in 1992.

This week, Iceland's Parliament stepped in to break the standoff, awarding citizenship to Fischer. Iceland is where Fischer won the world championship in 1972, defeating Spassky in a classic Cold War showdown that propelled Fischer to international stardom.

Fischer, 62, could still face extradition to the United States -- Iceland, like Japan, has an extradition treaty with Washington.

Thordur Oskarsson, Iceland's ambassador to Japan, said before Fischer's release that Washington sent a "message of disappointment" to the Icelandic government over its vote to grant Fischer citizenship.

"Despite the message, the decision was put through Parliament on humanitarian grounds," Oskarsson said.

In Washington on Tuesday, the State Department said it had officially asked Japan to hand over Fischer because of the charges against him.

"That's what we've asked for," said Adam Ereli, deputy spokesman for the State Department. "Mr. Fischer is a fugitive from justice. There is a federal warrant for his arrest."

Japan's Foreign Ministry, which has denied that there has been any pressure from Washington, had no immediate comment. The U.S. Embassy also declined to comment.

Tokyo initially refused Fischer's request to go to Iceland, saying Japanese law only allows for Fischer's deportation to the country of his origin. But following Iceland's decision Monday, Japanese Justice Minister Chieko Nono said officials would consider the possibility of allowing Fischer to go there.

Fischer became an icon in 1972 when he dethroned Spassky in a series of games in Reykjavik to claim America's first world chess championship in more than a century.

But a few years later he forfeited the title to another Soviet, Anatoly Karpov, when he refused to defend it. He then fell into obscurity before resurfacing to play the exhibition rematch against Spassky in the former Yugoslavia in 1992.

Fischer won the rematch on the resort island of Sveti Stefan. But the game was played in violation of U.S. sanctions imposed to punish then-President Slobodan Milosevic. If convicted, Fischer, who hasn't been to the United States since then, could face 10 years in prison and a fine of US$250,000.

Fischer also has emerged from silence in radio broadcasts and on his Web page to express anti-Semitic views and rail against the United States.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

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