By Angus MacKinnon (AFP) – Jan 4, 2013
PARIS — Cinema legend Brigitte Bardot on Friday threatened to follow actor Gerard Depardieu out of France unless two elephants under threat of being put down are granted a reprieve.
In a surreal twist to the saga over Depardieu's move into tax exile, the veteran animal rights campaigner said she would emulate his request for Russian nationality unless authorities intervened to save Baby and Nepal.
The two elephants face being put down because they have been diagnosed with tuberculosis and deemed a threat to the health of other animals and visitors to the Tete d'Or Zoo in Lyon.
Authorities in the central city ordered the elephants be put to sleep last month, prompting an outcry that resulted in them being granted a temporary reprieve over Christmas.
Bardot said in a statement she would be leaving France if the reprieve was not made permanent.
"If the powers that be have the cowardice and the shamelessness to kill Baby and Nepal... I have decided to take Russian nationality and quit this country that is nothing more an animal cemetery," Bardot said.
Bardot, 78, has been a high-profile supporter of Depardieu in his spat with the French government over his decision to take up residence in neighbouring Belgium for tax reasons.
She said last month that her fellow actor, who was branded "pathetic" by Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, had been the "victim of extremely unfair persecution".
Bardot's latest outburst came a day after President Vladimir Putin granted Depardieu citizenship, prompting the actor to declare his love for the Russian leader and the country's "great democracy".
That provoked reactions ranging from slightly bewildered pride to outright derision among ordinary Russians.
"He is impressed by our democracy -- he has completely lost his marbles," wrote one Facebook user, Vladimir Sokolov.
Zoya Alexeyevna, an 80-year-old strolling in central Moscow in fur coat and hat, was more welcoming.
"Depardieu, we really love him and of course we are proud of the fact that he chose our country," she said. "There are a lot of great people in Russia already but if we get one more, that's not bad."
Depardieu's decision to quit France came after the Socialist government that came to power last year announced plans to tax incomes over one million euros per year at 75 percent and to increase the inheritance and wealth taxes faced by the super rich.
The measures threatened to hit Depardieu hard. The star of Cyrano de Bergerac, Green Card and the Asterix and Obelix series, can easily command up to two million euros per film and has extensive business interests in France and elsewhere.
If he opted to spend over half the year in Russia, the actor could pay tax there on his worldwide income at a rate of just 13 percent.
But few expect that to happen. The 64-year-old, who was spotted Thursday at his Paris address, has acquired a residence in the Belgian village of Nechin, already home to some of France's wealthiest business figures.
Nechin is just 10 minutes drive from the northern French city of Lille, from where it is just one hour by high-speed train to Paris.
That is a trip Depardieu could be making on Tuesday, when he is due in court for sentencing on a charge of drink driving.
He was arrested in November after falling off his scooter, which he had been riding while more than three times over the legal alcohol limit.
That incident was the latest in a series of alcohol-related scrapes involving Depardieu in recent years.
He was cautioned in August 2012 for punching a car driver who had forced him to swerve on his scooter and in 2011 he generated global headlines when he urinated in a bottle during a Paris-Dublin flight.
Those incidents have not gone unnoticed among his new fellow citizens in Russia.
"He is constantly involved in drunken fights and rows," said Mikhail, 57. "I don't think he'd be let into any normal country. He's just a hooligan."
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