• Kyodo

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Wrestler-turned-lawmaker Antonio Inoki on Saturday met with Ri Su Yong, the top North Korean official in charge of foreign affairs.

The meeting took place a day after North Korea’s fifth nuclear test. Inoki, an independent in the Diet, said the visit was timed to coincide with the 68th anniversary of North Korea’s founding on Friday and that his main purpose is to promote sports exchanges.

Ri, vice chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, is a trusted confidant of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. In may, the former foreign minister held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping at which he conveyed a verbal message from Kim saying he hoped to strengthen bilateral relations and maintain peace in the region.

Before leaving for the North on Thursday, the 73-year-old former pro-wrestling star, whose real first name is Kanji, had said he planned to meet various officials during the visit, his 31st, and is not representing the Japanese government.

Though Tokyo and Pyongyang have never had diplomatic relations, the House of Councilors member has developed special connections with North Korean officials through his numerous visits.

Inoki is scheduled to stay until Tuesday. He last visited North Korea about two years ago and co-hosted a two-day wrestling event in Pyongyang.

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