Updated: 01/09/2014 16:36 | By Agence France-Presse

Rodman's birthday song to Kim 'like Marilyn': witnesses

Dennis Rodman singing "Happy Birthday" to North Korean regime chief Kim Jong-Un was akin to Marilyn Monroe performing for JFK, tourists who watched the performance said Thursday.

Rodman's birthday song to Kim 'like Marilyn': witnesses

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, his wife Ri Sol-Ju and former US basketball star Dennis Rodman watch a basketball game between former NBA players and North Korean players at Pyongyang Gymnasium, January 8, 2014

Hollywood sex symbol Monroe serenaded John F. Kennedy with a sultry version of the song at a Democratic Party fundraising soirée in 1962.

Rodman, formerly of the Chicago Bulls, sang the tune to Kim on Wednesday before joining fellow players for a game marking the reclusive leader's birthday, which has sparked huge controversy in the US.

"It was a little Marilyn Monroe to JFK, the tone of it," American Sophia Sokmensuer, who was in the audience in Pyongyang, told reporters Thursday at Beijing airport.

Rodman gestured to the crowd and appeared to bow to Kim, as a team of blue-clad retired NBA team-mates and North Korean players clapped along.

"Everyone was clapping and it was nice and it was funny," the New York University education student added. 

She said the game "was fascinating to see and a lot of fun". 

"At first it was a little tense but it relaxed and it was nice," she added.

Sean Agnew, a club owner from Philadelphia, described Rodman's song as "weird".

"He just sort of did it off the cuff, and it was, you know, obviously awkward," Agnew told AFP.

Rodman's teammate and former NBA player Eric 'Sleepy' Floyd was among the passengers arriving in Beijing.

He ran past reporters with his jacket over his head, refusing to answer questions as he was ushered away in a black car.

It is unclear when Rodman or the other players will return from North Korea. 

The heavily tattooed former All-star arrived in Pyongyang on Monday for his fourth trip to the North in 12 months, together with an assembled team of other former NBA players including Doug Christie, Craig Hodges and Charles Smith, for the exhibition game.

Rodman has been widely criticised for failing to raise human rights issues or the plight of jailed American Kenneth Bae during his visits to the North and with Kim, whom he calls his friend for life.

Rodman apologised Thursday for his televised outburst about Bae, explaining that he had been stressed and drinking at the time.

"I want to first apologise to Kenneth Bae's family," Rodman said in a statement released Thursday by his publicist and cited by CNN.

"I embarrassed a lot of people," said Rodman. "I'm very sorry. At this point I should know better than to make political statements. I'm truly sorry."

Meanwhile, a Japanese professional wrestler-turned-lawmaker will visit North Korea next week, his secretary said Thursday.

Antonio Inoki is a frequent visitor to the reclusive communist state. During his last trip in November, he met Jang Song-Thaek, the uncle of young leader Kim Jong-Un who was purged and executed last month.

Inoki, an opposition member of the upper house, is head of a non-profit organisation aimed at establishing sports-based exchanges, which opened an office in Pyongyang last month.

"We don't know until we arrive there who the senator will meet with -- that was always the case in his past visits to North Korea," his secretary said.

"His talks with North Korean senior officials are likely to take up diplomacy through sports, and the possibility of other Japanese parliamentarians visiting the country," he said.

While Inoki is a colourful character by Japanese political standards, his visit is expected to be considerably lower-key than Rodman's.

Inoki, a member of the tiny opposition Japan Restoration Party, was suspended for a month from the legislature for visiting Pyongyang without parliamentary permission while the house was sitting.

The planned trip, which begins on Sunday with a flight to Beijing before a Monday departure for North Korea, does not require parliament's approval because it is in recess.

He is scheduled to return to Tokyo next Thursday, the secretary said.

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