Putin meets 'Russian Obama' on regional trip: reports

16th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has for the first time met an African immigrant dubbed the "Russian Obama" after he won national fame by standing last year for elected office, reports said Friday.

Putin met Joaquim Crima at a construction site for new accommodations for servicemen in southern Russia Thursday and then later even summoned him to a full scale government meeting with regional officials, newspapers said.

Crima, an immigrant from Guinea-Bissau who has lived in Russia since 1989, last October become the first black man to bid for a seat on a local assembly in Russia.

In the end, he came only third in his district in the Volgograd region of southern Russia but his mere candidacy was hailed as significant in a country where non-whites can still endure racist abuse.

Undeterred by his ballot box setback, Crima joined the ruling United Russia party and worked on a project to restore a local road which he wants to name after Putin.

At the government meeting Putin asked Crima -- known locally by the Russian first name and patronymic Vasily Ivanovich -- whether it was better to work "in Africa or the Volgograd region".

Crima started by thanking Putin for the "great honour that you have shown me" and then impressed the prime minister further with his reply, according to a transcript published on the government website.

"I think it is not a question of whether it is better to work in Africa or Russia. It depends on the person. If a person really wants to live better, he must always strive towards something," Krima said.

"Bravo!" replied a pleased Putin, who at the meeting had shown himself to be less than happy with the performance of some officials in the region.

"What Vasily Ivanovich has said is correct. If we want to live better then we need to work better and this is the whole point. And to work better you need to understand what is happening."

Crima was sent to the Soviet Union to study by his parents and finished his studies at Volgograd University in 1995. He married a local woman of Armenian origin, made his living selling watermelons and took Russian citizenship.

© 2010 AFP

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