Crimeans live 'happy, peaceful life': Japanese ex-PM

TOKYO (AFP) - A former Japanese prime minister returned to Tokyo on Saturday from a controversial trip to Crimea, made despite opposition from his country's current government.

Yukio Hatoyama, who arrived at Narita airport near the capital, did not speak to journalists awaiting his return, but had said during his trip that life there was "happy" as he slammed Tokyo's position on Russia's annexation of the Black Sea peninsula.

Tokyo joined the West in introducing sanctions against Russia for seizing Crimea from Ukraine last March.

Hatoyama visited Crimea on Tuesday, saying he wanted to see life on there for himself, despite Tokyo's stiff opposition to the trip which could be seen to legitimise Moscow's seizure of the peninsula.

"The Crimeans live a happy, peaceful life," Hatoyama told reporters in Simferopol, the regional centre in Crimea.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters earlier the government had tried to stop the gaffe-prone former prime minister from travelling to the annexed peninsula.

But Hatoyama pressed ahead with his visit to Crimea, where he said last year's referendum, which saw a majority in Crimea vote to split from Ukraine, was conducted in accordance with democratic norms despite being rejected internationally.

Hatoyama, a hugely wealthy man, became prime minister in 2009 at the head of the Democratic Party of Japan, but his chaotic premiership ended just nine months later after a series of policy flip-flops and blunders.

His previous attempts at personal diplomacy included a 2012 trip to Iran, also made against the wishes of his government.

Crimea, which was part of Soviet Russia until 1954, was formally annexed by Moscow on March 18, triggering international condemnation.

Russian television has revealed how President Vladimir Putin gave the secret order for his troops to move into Crimea in February last year.