Japanese ex-PM defies Tokyo to visit Crimea

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A gaffe-prone former Japanese prime minister arrived in Crimea Tuesday despite stiff opposition from Tokyo to a trip that could be seen to legitimise Moscow's annexation of the Black Sea peninsula. Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters earlier Tuesday that the government was trying to stop ex-premier Yukio Hatoyama from making the trip amid fears he might muddy diplomatic waters. Japan joined Western powers in imposing sanctions on Russia over last year's contentious annexation. But Hatoyama, who served as prime minister for just nine months from 2009 to 2010, paid no heed to Tokyo's concerns and went to Crimea, kicking off his three-day trip with a visit to the seaside city of Yalta, Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported. "I possibly could in some way promote the development of cultural and humanitarian ties between Crimea and Japan," the agency quoted Hatoyama as saying. Japan's TV Asahi, whose reporters spoke to Hatoyama in Moscow, said he had insisted diplomacy was not the sole preserve of a country's foreign ministry. "I want to see with my own eyes how people in Crimea are feeling" about the annexation, Hatoyama said on Monday. The former prime minister was set to give a speech to university students in Crimea on Thursday, reported RIA Novosti. Russian television this week revealed how President Vladimir Putin gave the secret order for his troops to move into Crimea in February last year. The Ukrainian province was formally annexed by Moscow on March 18, triggering international condemnation. Hatoyama, a hugely wealthy man, became prime minister in 2009 at the head of the Democratic Party of Japan, but his chaotic premiership ended just nine months later after a series of policy flip-flops and blunders. His previous attempts at personal diplomacy included a 2012 trip to Iran, made against the wishes of his government. Tehran cited Hatoyama as saying Iran was the victim of "double standards" by the international nuclear watchdog over what it says is a peaceful atomic power programme. The US and its allies say Tehran is trying to build a nuclear bomb. The comments, which Hatoyama later denied, earned him a ticking-off from Tokyo when he returned home. His bug-eyes, often peculiar manner and oddball comments saw him dubbed "The Alien" earlier in his political career, a nickname he happily adopted. His off-the-wall image was aided by his wife Miyuki, who famously said her soul once visited Venus on a triangular spaceship and that she met Hollywood star Tom Cruise in a previous life. In January, the former prime minister donned women's clothes to star in a musical called "Waist Size Story." Wearing a bright pink dress, he played an elderly woman named Rosario who served as the first female president of the United States.

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