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Gerard Depardieu Visits Chechnya Leader

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Gerard Depardieu poses for a picture with Chechen leader Ramzan KadyrovGerard Depardieu poses for a picture with Chechen leader Ramzan KadyrovFrench actor Gerard Depardieu has taken to the dancefloor to celebrate his new Russian citizenship with Chechnya's strongman president Ramzan Kadyrov.

Some have concerns about the Chechen leader’s record on human rights, but apparently not Depardieu, who greeted Mr Kadyrov warmly in the capital Grozny before taking part in a traditional dance, known as the Lezginka.

Depardieu had flown in to the once war-torn city on board his private jet,  where he was welcomed personally by the Chechen president.  The two men hugged on the tarmac, before sampling an offering of bread and salt.

The 63-year-old actor was granted Russian citizenship after objecting to French president Francois Hollande's plans for a 75% tax on income over 1 million euros, although he has previously denied he is leaving France for tax reasons.

Russia has a flat 13% tax rate.  

Speaking at the reception in Grozny, the Cyrano de Bergerac star said: "I very much like to see these people with this pride.  I heard, like everybody, about the Chechen temperament, but I had never been to this country, to this state."

The Kremlin-backed channel Russia Today reported that Depardieu had been made an honorary citizen of Chechnya, and presented with the key to a five-bedroom flat in the capital.

The Chechen government's website said the star had promised to return to the city to make a film about the region.

When asked why he was visiting the city, Depardieu was quoted as saying: "I am visiting my friend … Secondly, I want to film a movie here to show that a big movie can be made in Grozny.

"I can’t say anything about the details of the film but I know that we are definitely coming back here, this is only the beginning.

"I am sure happy people live here, in order to sing and dance like that, you have to be really happy."

Depardieu’s move to Russia has been seized upon by senior officials as an opportunity for some positive PR - to show that successful people are choosing to move to the country.

Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, personally presented Depardieu with his passport at a televised ceremony in January.

And Mr Kadyrov, who is the son of a Chechen warlord and has been accused of grave human rights abuses in the region, was quick to associate himself with Russia's favourite new son.

He told reporters: "Everyone wants to come to Russia, and nobody leaves us. If such great people are coming to Russia, that means that Russia has created all of the conditions for that. We are very happy that he came and that he found the time to be our guest."

Depardieu received his registration papers on Saturday and is now officially a resident of Saransk, a city of approximately 300,000 people in the central Russian republic of Mordovia, about 640 km east of Moscow.

"Glory to Russia; glory to Mordovia!" he said after the ceremony. "This region doesn't have oil or gas but has rich people who make their wishes come true in life."

He told reporters he was planning to build a small house in the countryside and open a restaurant in the city.

February 26 2013, 10:17

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