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Putin grants Depardieu citizenship

Russian President Vladimir Putin has granted French actor Gerard Depardieu citizenship. The actor recently fled his home country in protest against a plan to reduce the national deficit by milking the highest earners.

Putin signed the decree on Thursday, according to the Kremlin's official website. There was no immediate comment from the famed French actor.

A couple of weeks ago, the Russian leader had already hinted at the possible nationality-switch.

If Depardieu "wants to have a residence permit or the Russian passport, then the issue is as good as settled," the Putin told reporters at a news conference in Moscow.

The ubiquitous celebrity, known for his role in films like "Cyrano de Bergerac," and "Jean de Florette," moved to a Belgian town close to the French border late last year, where he had bought property in order to evade new tax hikes.

Socialist President Francois Hollande had campaigned on a platform that promised to demand more from the country's wealthiest as a way to reduce the huge national deficit. After winning the election in May 2012, he proposed to levy a 75 percent income tax on citizens who earned over one million euros ($1.31 million) as a temporary fiscal measure.

Following Depardieu's departure, the French prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault - among many others - openly criticized the national figure for his behavior, calling him "pathetic" and unpatriotic.

Depardieu, 65, defended his move and his love for France in a letter that appeared in the Sunday paper Journal du Dimanche.

"I am leaving because you believe that success, creation, talent, anything different must be sanctioned," he said, adding that he had paid 85 percent of his income in 2012 in taxes and 145 million euros in taxes over 45 years.

President Hollande's tax bill was rejected by France's Constitutional Council in late December due to its concerns of the different taxation of couples as compared to individuals. Couples who individual incomes were below the threshold would have escaped the high tax rate under the provision, unlike individuals earning just over the mark.

The prime minister said his government intended to revise and resubmit a draft in accordance with the Council's remarks.

The new tax rate has received criticism for draining the small group of rich citizens as part of a plan that would draw less than 500 million euros.

kms/pfd (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)