Japanese parliament now unlikely to OK lawmakers' N. Korea trip

Japan's parliament has reversed its initial stance and is now unlikely to approve a planned visit by five opposition lawmakers to North Korea, a senior official of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party said Monday.

"The prime minister's office said no," the official told reporters, referring to former professional wrestler Antonio Inoki and four other Japan Restoration Party members' planned trip to North Korea from late April.

The Japanese government has asked citizens to refrain from visiting North Korea as part of its sanctions on the country and approving a trip by lawmakers could be interpreted as an easing of the sanctions. Japan has no diplomatic relations with North Korea.

A source close to Inoki, a House of Councillors member of the small opposition party led by former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara and Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, said the lawmakers will not make the trip if parliament does not approve the plan.

The Diet was originally expected to give the green light for the visit to North Korea aimed at promoting sports exchanges on the grounds that the lawmakers' explanation of their itinerary was clear.

Of the remaining four, Takayuki Shimizu is an upper house member and the three others are House of Representatives members. They had said they would visit North Korea from April 29 to May 5.

Overseas trips by lawmakers during a parliamentary session require the approval of their Diet chambers.

Inoki, whose real first name is Kanji, went to Pyongyang last November without permission during a parliamentary session. He was later prohibited from attending parliament for 30 days.

He traveled to the reclusive country in January when the Diet was not in session.