Sumo-loving Chirac heads for the rising sun

25th March 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 25 (AFP) - Leaving labour strife, uncertainty over a key referendum and domestic economic woes aside for a short time, French President Jacques Chirac will Saturday make another of his many trips abroad -- this time to indulge one of his abiding passions: Japan.

PARIS, March 25 (AFP) - Leaving labour strife, uncertainty over a key referendum and domestic economic woes aside for a short time, French President Jacques Chirac will Saturday make another of his many trips abroad -- this time to indulge one of his abiding passions: Japan.

The three-day official visit to the Land of the Rising Sun will be Chirac's 45th. Or 50th. His office isn't quite sure, given the number of trips he has made over his life, in both his capacity as an elected official (Paris mayor, prime minister, president) and as a private citizen.

Although ostensibly to deepen Paris-Tokyo ties, and even talk over some minor disaccords, the Japan visit will also allow Chirac to get close to the various facets of Japanese life that fascinate him.

Among those is Sumo, the wrestling sport pitting pony-tailed man-mountains against each other. Chirac, who is said to follow Sumo results daily on the Internet, will attend a tournament and dine with the wrestlers.

"I know them well, personally, and thus I am very happy to go to the tournament," he told the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun this week.

With his love for the Japanese sport, his admiration for Japanese art and his interest in Japanese history, Chirac has been feeling a five-year hiatus from visiting Japan keenly. A trip scheduled for March 2003 ended up being cancelled because of the outbreak of the US war on Iraq.

"I am starting to get impatient to return to Japan," he told Asahi Shimbun. "Close to five years without going to Japan for me is intolerable."

The trip will take place as Chirac faces woes at home.

Workers from various sectors have held street protests over his government's economic reforms, and he is struggling to turn around public opposition to a referendum he has called to adopt an EU constitution. At the same time, unemployment has grown and his own popularity has slumped.

In Japan, the issues likely to be discussed away from the Sumo arenas include Europe's push to build the world's first nuclear fusion reactor in France despite a rival bid for the project by Tokyo, Chirac's pressure to have an EU arms embargo on China lifted, and investment opportunities, French presidential spokesman Jerome Bonnafont said.

Japan's desire to see UN reforms deliver it a seat on the UN Security Council, on which France is a permanent member, may also be raised.

Chirac, accompanied by his wife Bernadette and a bevy of French business leaders, will arrive in Osaka first, then head by train to Nagoya to see the World Expo in Aichi.

From there he will go to Tokyo Sunday to meet Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and on Monday he will lunch with Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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