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Actor Depardieu in Mordovia for keys to a new home

MOSCOW -- French actor Gerard Depardieu, who received a Russian passport in a move to avoid higher taxes for the rich back home, traveled Sunday to Mordovia in central Russia where he was offered to set up a residence, local television reported.

Television showed the actor, fresh from his meeting with President Vladimir Putin the previous day, arriving in snow-covered Mordovia, a region known for its harsh climate and a network of Stalin-era prison camps.

Depardieu was seen on television showing off his new red passport to his hosts in the regional capital Saransk, a city of around 300,000 people located some 600 kilometers to the southeast of Moscow.

Upon arrival Depardieu, who wore no hat and left his coat unbuttoned, was greeted by young women wearing national costumes and served blini, or pancakes, before touring a local history museum.

“Gerard Depardieu was greeted as a hero,” a correspondent said on Russian television.

The television report said the French actor was also expected to receive keys to a new home and to be granted official residence registration in Mordovia.

The Interfax news agency reported from Saransk that local governor Vladimir Volkov had made the French actor an offer to pick an apartment or a place to build a house in Mordovia.

“I am very happy, it's very beautiful here, beautiful and soulful people live here,” Interfax quoted the actor as saying.

Depardieu also complimented local women on their beauty, it added.

The French film star also expressed a desire to see a monument to Yemelyan Pugachev, the leader of one of most violent peasant revolts in the 18th century who he reportedly wants to play.

Among the gifts the star of “Cyrano de Bergerac” and “Green Card” received in Mordovia were a pair of felt boots, or valenki, and two kittens for his new Russian home, television said.

Mordovia is famous for its often unforgiving climate and a large number of prison camps, which appeared in the 1930s as part of the Stalin-era GULAG system of labour camps.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, a member of Pussy Riot punk band, is serving her two-year prison sentence in Mordovia, after she and her band mates performed an anti-Putin song in a church last year.

Depardieu was traveling to the region on the eve of the Orthodox Christmas which Russia celebrates on Jan. 7 and was also taken to a cathedral.

On Saturday, Depardieu met Putin over a meal at the Russian strongman's residence in Sochi on the Black Sea and was handed a Russian passport.

When Depardieu first announced he would leave France to avoid a proposed higher tax on millionaires, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault branded the move “pathetic.”

Depardieu, the Russian television said, was so angry with France that when he learnt that two French reporters were in Mordovia to cover his visit he told them to leave.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, greets French actor Gerard Depardieu during their meeting in Putin's residence in Sochi on Saturday, Jan. 5. Putin earlier granted citizenship to Depardieu after the French movie star said he was quitting his homeland to avoid paying a new millionaires' tax.(AFP)

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