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Germany

German Chess Fans Rally Around Bobby Fischer

Former chess world champion Bobby Fischer is considering applying for German citizenship to avoid extradition to the US for violating an embargo against Yugoslavia in 1992. His German fans are now campaigning for him.

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The controversial chess player during the match in Montenegro

When Bobby Fischer became chess world champion in 1972 after beating his Soviet rival, Boris Spassky, his countrymen celebrated him for winning a decisive victory at the height of the Cold War.

But a rematch between the two players in the Yugoslav republic of Montenegro 20 years later led to Fischer's July 13 arrest at Tokyo's airport. By participating in the match, Fischer violated a US embargo against the warring Balkan country. He now faces 10 years in prison and a $250,000 (€208,000) fine if convicted.

Fischer has been trying to fight extradition, mulling asylum in Montenegro as one way to avoid his return to the US.

Wahlen in Montenegro Filip Vujanovic

Filip Vujanovic during elections in February 2003

Montenegrin government officials had originally said they were open to the idea if both the US and Japan would support such a move. But on Tuesday, Montenegro's President Filip Vujanovic (photo) said US officials had rejected the proposal.

"Obviously, there aren't conditions for Fischer to be granted asylum" in Monetnegro, Vujanovic told state-run radio, according to the Associated Press.

"Free Bobby" campaign

Looking for another option, Fischer has made no secret of considering an application for German citizenship. The 61-year-old chess champ reportedly has a German father, a family tie that would in theory at least make such a move possible.

Bundesinnenminister Otto Schily

Otto Schily

German chess fans have started a signature drive to petition for Fischer's release and have sent a letter to German Interior Minister Otto Schily (photo), himself a chess fan, asking him to review the possibility of granting the chess player asylum.

While saying they would be happy to cover Fischer's living costs, the so-called "Frankfurt Chess Tigers" behind the "Free Bobby" campaign also pointed out that they were distancing themselves from Fischer's "unacceptable statements."

Prosecution for anti-Semitic remarks?

Although the German chess fans admire Fischer for his strategy on the board, they have been careful not to show the same enthusiasm for his political and religious beliefs. The controversial champ has allegedly praised the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States as a just retaliation, and, despite his own Jewish ancestry, has lashed out against Jews on what supporters' call Fischer's official Web site.

"Bobby Fischer does not want to be returned to the Jew-controlled USA," one text on the site reads, while another denies the Nazi Holocaust, during which an estimated six million Jews were murdered.

"The so-called 'Holocaust' of the Jews during World War II is a complete hoax," it reads. "It never happened. The Jews are liars."

Denying the Holocaust is a crime in Germany and Fischer could potentially face prosecution because of his remarks.

German officials cautious

An Interior Ministry spokeswoman told DW-WORLD Fischer would be automatically considered German if his father still had German citizenship at the time of his son's birth or was forced to flee Nazi Germany.

Otherwise, Fischer would have to prove that he has a current connection to Germany and can speak German. His anti-Semitic statements could play a role should Fischer's application for German citizenship not be clear cut and involve review by a panel, the spokeswoman said, adding that Fischer could only apply for asylum if he were in Germany at the time.

German diplomats in Japan meanwhile have informed Fischer via Japanese officials that they would process his application for German citizenship, a Foreign Ministry spokesman told DW-WORLD. He added that Fischer's application would be treated like any other, but said that the chess player had so far not contacted German officials.

The spokesman could not say whether Fischer's possible German citizenship would have any effect on the ongoing extradition proceedings with the United States.