Japan's Abe meets Ethiopian running heroes on Africa tour

ADDIS ABABA (AFP) - Japanese premier Shinzo Abe kicked off a visit to Ethiopia on Monday by meeting the country's running stars and receiving a gift from the son of late barefoot marathon legend Abebe Bikila, winner of the Tokyo Olympic marathon 50 years ago.

"My name is Abe, but everybody teased me at school, calling me Abebe," the prime minister joked. "Many Japanese marathon runners would actually collapse after the race but when I saw Mr Abebe actually stretching afterwards, it was such a surprise, even for a 10-year-old."

"Today I had the opportunity to meet famous athletes from Ethiopia as well as the son of Mr Abebe, as well as wonderful children boys and girls who will one day be gold medalists, or who will one day be winners at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics," he added.

Mr Abe was presented with a photo of Bikila winning Olympic gold in Tokyo, a gift from the late legend's son, Yetnayet Abebe.

Bikila died in 1973 from complications caused by a road accident four years before, and remains one of the great icons of running - especially in marathon-mad Japan.

Mr Abe also met with Ethiopian female road and track stars Meseret Defar, Tiki Gelana, Derartu Tulu and Ibrahim Jeilan.

Mr Abe is on the final stop of a tour of Africa that has already taken him to Ivory Coast and Mozambique, hoping to boost ties and business relations on a continent that has become a key trading partner with China.

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