French actor Gerard Depardieu was Friday visiting his newly-adopted homeland of Russia to meet the Orthodox Patriarch, open a cinema and visit his new address on "Democracy Street".
Depardieu, who was granted a Russian passport by President Vladimir Putin after complaining at high tax rates in France, was set to spend Friday in Moscow before travelling 650 kilometres to the provincial city of Saransk to register as a resident of Democracy Street (Demokraticheskaya Ulitsa).
"They will put a stamp in his most important document (passport) giving him permanent registration at a concrete address...The flat where Depardieu will be registered is in a building on Democracy Street in central Saransk," Russian state television reported.
The street is in the Lenin district of the city of 300,000 residents to the east of Moscow. The apartment where Depardieu will be a resident belongs to family members of the head of Russia's State Film Fund, Nikolai Borodachev, a friend of the actor, Russian news agencies reported.
Saransk is the capital of the Mordovia region, chiefly known for its network of prison camps where one of the jailed Pussy Riot punks is serving her sentence.
Russian television showed Depardieu smiling as he got into a big black car after landing at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport.
Depardieu on Friday was set to meet Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, and the Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky, the State Film Fund said Friday on its website. He was also due to open a newly restored cinema in a Stalin-era skyscraper.
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Russians can easily secure a certificate allowing them to vote at any polling station, a variation on the absentee ballot. Teachers, employees of state companies, soldiers and others are often required to vote at their workplace, under the eyes of their bosses and under pressure to vote for the Kremlin party. Observers have recorded instances in which officials helped voters to obtain multiple certificates, enabling them to vote at several polling stations. In the city of Bryansk on Sunday, a representative of the Kremlin party, United Russia, drove off with a Communist Party observer on the hood of his car after the observer spotted these voting certificates being distributed from the car, according to the Communist Party and a video posted online. Caption: <em>Prime Minister Vladimir Putin smiles as he and Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev, unseen, meet with their supporters in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011.</em> (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, pool)
Election observers say that a typical carousel voter is paid up to $100 a day to be bused from one polling station to another to cast multiple ballots, a scheme that normally requires prior agreement with election officials at the polling stations. The carousel voters normally are required to take a picture of the ballot to prove they chose the "right" candidate, although in some cases they receive the ballots already marked. In the city of Izhevsk, observers reported seeing a group of several dozen men with certificates for absentee ballots entering a polling station in pairs and then returning in a group to a van parked outside, where they showed a man photos from their cell phones. Caption: <em>Yevgenia Chirikova speaks to the press, standing on a pavement amid fake US dollars thrown by pro-Kremlin activists after she submitted documents to a local election commission in Khimki, outside Moscow on Monday, Aug. 27, 2012.</em> (AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev)
After widespread reports of fraud in a December parliamentary election, all polling stations were equipped with web cameras. Even so, observers say some election officials still manage to slip in wads of ballots. A video from a polling station in the southern Krasnodar region shows an election official taking a pile of ballots from a desk and putting them into the ballot box. In the Tula region, the opposition Yabloko party said election officials broke the finger of a Yabloko representative as she tried to prevent ballot stuffing. Caption: <em>A man prepares to vote in the local elections in town of Khimki outside Moscow on October 14, 2012.</em> (KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/GettyImages)
Copycat Parties And Spoiler Candidates
New legislation drafted in response to anti-Putin protests last winter made it easier for parties to take part in elections. One result is dozens of copycat parties, for instance with the words "Communist" or "justice" in their names. This is mostly meant to confuse elderly voters, who might tick the first box they see with a familiar word next to it. Spoiler candidates are also common. These are often seemingly independent figures who run against Kremlin-backed candidates to create a semblance of competition and to steal votes from genuine opposition politicians. In the mayoral race in the Moscow suburb of Khimki, opposition leader and environmentalist Yevgeniya Chirikova was up against not only the acting mayor but a former government official known for his environmental activism and a heavy metal singer with a cult following. Chirikova came in second after the acting mayor with 18 percent of the vote. The independent election monitoring organization Golos estimated that spoiler candidates received 8 percent of the vote nationwide. Caption: <em>A man casts his ballot paper at a polling station in the town of Khimki outside Moscow, Russia, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012.</em> (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)
High Threshold For Hopefuls
Also in response to the street protests, the Kremlin restored elections for Russia's 83 regional governors, which Putin had abolished in 2004. But candidates can run only if they represent a party and have the endorsement of at least 5 percent of the lawmakers in their regional legislatures, which tend to be under the Kremlin party's control. Caption: <em>A poster with a picture of Russian Prime Minister and presidential candidate Vladimir Putin, reading 'Another 12 years? No, thank you!' is seen on the manhole after an unsanctioned opposition rally in front of the Russian Central Election Commission headquarters in Moscow, on February 28, 2012.</em> (KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/GettyImages)