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Fischer to marry Japanese woman

August 16, 2004 18:40 IST

In a bold gambit worthy of the chess champion he once was, Bobby Fischer plans to wed a four-time Japan great in the hope of avoiding deportation home to the United States, where he is wanted for breaking sanctions.

But it is far from certain that his move will pay off.

In the latest twist to a bizarre tale, former world chess champion Fischer, 61, has decided to marry Miyoko Watai, acting head of the Japan Chess Association, his lawyer, Masako Suzuki, said on Monday.

However, it was not clear that the move would allow him to avert deportation. The grandmaster has been wanted in the United States since 1992 when he violated U.S. economic sanctions by going to Yugoslavia, beating his old rival, Boris Spassky, and winning a $3 million prize.

"Fischer and Watai had been living together since 2000 ... but decided to go through with legal procedures to get married," Suzuki said in a statement.

Watai, 59, is a four-time Japan women's chess champion and has been a vocal supporter of Fischer since he was detained last month at Tokyo's Narita airport when he tried to leave for Manila on a passport that U.S. officials say was invalid.

A Philippine newspaper quoted a local chess grandmaster as saying that Fischer had a Filipino wife and a child living in the country.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer quoted Philippine grandmaster Eugene Torre as saying that he had asked President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to grant asylum to Fischer because he has a family living in the Philippines.

It was not immediately clear if Fischer would be allowed to marry while in detention, or whether marriage to a Japanese national would enable him to avoid deportation.

Suzuki had previously said that, in Fischer's bid to avoid deportation to the United States, he planned to renounce his U.S. citizenship and filed for refugee status in Japan, while also seeking other countries willing to let him stay.

In the statement, Suzuki said she had written to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell asking that Fischer be allowed to give up his citizenship.

He can only do so by telling a U.S. official face-to-face that he renounces it, but he has had no response to his request from the U.S. embassy in Tokyo, she said.

No embassy official has visited him at the detention centre where he is being held some 50 km (30 miles) northeast of Tokyo, she said.

"Although renouncing U.S. citizenship is a legal right ... the U.S. embassy in Japan has made it impossible for Mr. Fischer to exercise his right," she said.

COLD WAR COUP

Fischer became world chess champion in 1972 when he beat Spassky of the Soviet Union in a victory touted as a Cold War propaganda coup for the United States.

He lost the title three years later after chess officials rejected his conditions for a title defence against another Soviet player, Anatoly Karpov. Karpov became champion by default.

Japanese immigration authorities moved Fischer last week from a detention centre at Narita airport to a larger facility.

While Japanese officials gave no reason for the transfer, Suzuki said that, considering past cases, it was likely Fischer would be detained there for some time.

Fischer appealed against deportation last month but this was rejected by Japanese immigration officials. He has filed a second appeal to Justice Minister Daizo Nozawa.

Fischer vanished after the 1992 match in Yugoslavia but resurfaced after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. He gave an interview to a Philippine radio station in which he praised the strikes and said he wanted to see America "wiped out".

Fischer's supporters say he renewed his passport in 1997 and never received a letter issued in December 2003 revoking it. U.S. State Department officials in Washington have said it took years for the legal process to catch up with him.

Fischer, whose mother was Jewish, has also stirred controversy with anti-Semitic remarks.

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