Monday, March 21, 2005

Iceland Grants Citizenship for Chess Star

"Mar 21, 1:54 PM (ET)


REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) - Iceland, the country where Bobby Fischer won the world chess championship a generation ago, granted citizenship to the 62-year-old recluse Monday - a boost to Fischer's efforts to fight deportation from Japan to the United States.

Fischer, who is wanted by the United States for violating economic sanctions against the former Yugoslavia by playing a highly publicized match there in 1992, has been in Japanese custody since July 13. He was detained while trying to board a flight with an invalid passport.

Immigration officials in Iceland said a passport for Fischer could be ready as early as Tuesday.

The legislation, which passed with 40 members of parliament voting in favor and two abstaining, took effect immediately. The 21 other members of the Althingi were absent.

Fischer and his supporters have staged several high-profile attempts to fight the deportation order.

'I am very pleased with this and I think that the dignity of the parliament has increased,' said Saemundur Palsson, a Fischer supporter, after the parliamentary vote.

There is widespread support for Fischer in Iceland, and the parliament's approval had been widely expected. The bill went through the required three readings in 12 minutes.

The Japanese government had no immediate official reaction. But Palsson has claimed Japan confirmed it would allow him to go to Iceland if citizenship was granted.

'I hope that he will stop cursing the Americans now, it has gotten him into so much trouble,' Palsson told reporters.

Since being taken into custody, Fischer has repeatedly denounced the U.S. deportation order as politically motivated, demanded refugee status, renounced his U.S. citizenship and said he wants to become a German national.

He also has applied to marry Mikyoko Watai, head of the Japan Chess Association.

Iceland's parliament voted last month against granting Fischer citizenship, offering him a special foreigners' passport and residence permit instead. But Japanese officials declined to release him. Supporters were hoping the new offer of citizenship will resolve the standoff over his status.

Fischer became an icon in 1972 when he dethroned the Soviet Union's Boris Spassky in a series of games in Reykjavik to claim America's first world chess championship in more than a century. But a few years later he forfeited the title to another Soviet, Anatoly Karpov, when he refused to defend it. He then fell into obscurity before resurfacing to play an exhibition rematch against Spassky in the former Yugoslavia in 1992.

Fischer won the rematch on the resort island of Sveti Stefan. But the victory came with a high price - It was played in violation of U.S. sanctions imposed to punish then-President Slobodan Milosevic. If convicted, Fischer, who hasn't been to the United States since then, could face 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

Fischer also has emerged from silence in radio broadcasts and on his Web page to express anti-Semitic views and rail against the United States.

A federal grand jury in Washington, meanwhile, is investigating possible money-laundering charges involving Fischer, Richard J. Vattuone, one of his lawyers said this month.

Fischer was reported to have received $3.5 million from the competition in the former Yugoslavia. He boasted at the time that he didn't intend to pay any income tax on the money."

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