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Old March 3rd 05, 07:33 AM
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Default Friends blocked from seeing Bobby Fischer behind bars


Friends blocked from seeing Bobby Fischer behind bars

***** EXCLUSIVE *****

Mainichi Shimbun

[Miyoko Watai, left, and Saemundur Palsson, are pictured outside East
Japan Immigration Bureau Detention Center in Ushiku, Ibaraki Prefecture,
on Wednesday night.]

USHIKU, Ibaraki -- Bobby Fischer's fiancee Miyoko Watai and Saemundur
Palsson, one of his oldest friends, were abruptly and dramatically
turned away "for safety reasons" when they tried to visit the
incarcerated chess champion here Wednesday afternoon, the Mainichi Daily
News learned.

Officials at the East Japan Immigration Bureau Detention Center in
Ushiku refused to go into any further detail for explaining why the
reunion was cancelled minutes before it was due to have taken place,
even though Palsson had spent days getting to Tokyo and hours traveling
with Watai from the capital to the Ibaraki Prefecture lockup.

"The reason they gave was also very strange," Palsson, a smiling,
gray-haired, 68-year-old former police officer said. "I never thought I
looked so violent."

Immigration Bureau officials strongly denied Palsson and Fischer's
fiancee Miyoko Watai had been turned away because they were accompanied
by reporters from the Mainichi and a television crew from Iceland.

"I cannot explain in detail why the meeting may not occur today, other
than to say the decision has been made for safety reasons," Nobuhiko
Kobayashi, assistant section manager of the general affairs section at
the detention center where Fischer has been jailed since August last
year, said.

Palsson, who spent more than two days traveling from Reykjavik to Tokyo,
battled jet leg and a sore knee to go out to see Fischer at the earliest
possible chance.

"This was an outrageous act," Palsson said, adding that having worked
for years with Japanese people in the 1960s, he believed "they were the
most polite and nicest people I had ever met. I always respected the
Japanese people after that. That's why the disappointment was so big
after being turned down when going to see my friend. It was something
that I did not expect. I was puzzled. I could hardly believe it."

Watai, who has gone to see Fischer in Ushiku almost daily since he was
put in detention without ever having a visit canceled abruptly, was baffled.

"I wondered what was happening," she said.

Watai said she had talked with Fischer over the phone on Tuesday night
and told him that Palsson would be visiting the following day.

Fischer, who became close to the Icelandic former police inspector when
in Reykjavik in 1972 for the World Chess Championship, was delighted he
would have the chance to catch up with his old friend, Watai said.

But Immigration Bureau officials had different ideas.

As soon as Watai and Palsson arrived at the center, Kobayashi appeared
at the door and told media representatives that they would not be able
to cover the story from inside the building.

Reporters were eventually allowed to follow Watai and Palsson as they
completed applications to visit Fischer. Media representatives were told
that absolutely no reporting could be done from inside the building,
though they were free to take photos from outside.

After waiting about 40 minutes, an Immigration Bureau official suddenly
told the chess champion's friends that Yasushi Takayama, head of the
detention center, had cancelled Fischer's visiting rights for the day.
The official said he was not sure of the reason.

Kobayashi and Tetsuya Shishido, a sub-section chief in the same
department, met the grandmaster's friends. They expressed sympathy for
Palsson and Watai, but refused to let them see Fischer.

"It's not like we're picking on him," Kobayashi said. "It was just that
on this occasion safety reasons prompted an end to Fischer's visit."

Shishido denied the visitation rights had been curtailed because of
attempts by the media to cover the reunion.

"We've had loads of media bodies come here before and we've turned them
all away," he said.

The officials said that the final decision on the cancellation of
Fischer's visiting rights lay with Takayama, the head of the center, and
that there was no recourse for appeal. After escorting Palsson, Watai
and media representatives out of a second-floor meeting room,
Immigration Bureau officials posted a guard to watch over the Icelandic
TV crew as it filmed the detention center entrance. Several Immigration
Bureau officials peered from office windows, watching the group, while
Kobayashi kept a close watch over Palsson and Watai until they finally left.

Earlier Wednesday, Palsson had visited the Icelandic Embassy in Tokyo to
check on the status of a special Icelandic passport for foreigners that
Reykjavik has agreed to issue to Fischer. Diplomats are awaiting
confirmation from the Icelandic Foreign Minister before they will hand
over the passport.

Fischer was arrested at Narita Airport in July last year for using a
passport the U.S. says it had revoked. He was transferred to Ushiku the
following month and has remained there since. He is currently fighting a
legal battle with the Justice Ministry to avoid deportation to the
United States.

Iceland offered Fischer residency without a passport in December, but
the Justice Ministry, which ordered Fischer deported, now refuses to let
him leave Japan unless he is to return to the U.S. Fischer is wanted in
his homeland for playing chess in Yugoslavia in 1992 in alleged
violation of an Executive Order. He faces a 10-year jail term, 250,000
yen fine or both if convicted. (By Ryann Connell, Mainichi Daily News,
March 2, 2005)
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