Tearful Rodman returns to China from North Korea

Former NBA basketball player Dennis Rodman is followed by journalists as he arrives at the Capital International Airport in Beijing from Pyongyang, Monday, 13 January 2014 Image copyright AP
Image caption Rodman has said that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was his "friend for life"

The former US basketball star Dennis Rodman broke down in tears and apologised on Monday amid chaotic scenes as he returned from a controversial trip to North Korea.

Surrounded by a crowd of reporters at Beijing airport soon after he stepped off a flight from Pyongyang, 52-year-old Rodman repeated several times that he was "sorry."

During his visit to North Korea last week, Rodman played an exhibition basketball match for the North's young leader, Kim Jong-un, and then led a public rendition of Happy Birthday for him.

Rodman has described the 31-year-old Mr Kim, the third of the Kim family dynasty to rule over North Korea, as a "friend for life", and is one of only a few foreigners who have met him personally.

"It is amazing that I had the opportunity just to go to North Korea, and for the Marshal [Kim] just to give me an opportunity just to be in his presence and in his city," said Rodman.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Not many foreigners have personally met Mr Kim, who recently marked his birthday

'Happy for one day'

The former Chicago Bulls player had been criticised for not doing more to bring up the case of Kenneth Bae, an American missionary who is serving a 15-year prison term in North Korea.

In an interview while in North Korea, Rodman appeared to suggest that Mr Bae was to blame for his own imprisonment.

But speaking to journalists at the arrivals hall of Beijing's airport, Rodman said: "I am sorry. I am not the president. I am not an ambassador. I am Dennis Rodman. Just an individual, just showing the world the fact that we can actually get along and be happy for one day", before he appeared to be overcome by emotion, covered his face with his hands and was hustled away by his minders.

Critics say the basketball star has achieved little other than to allow North Korea's leader to bask in the publicity afforded by his visit. But Rodman indicated he was already planning a return trip to North Korea for another basketball game.