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Dictator Stalin was softie and cry-baby

Moscow (AP) - After 60 years as a Kremlin maid, Polina Malinkina has issued her verdict on its best-known inhabitants.

The dictator Josef Stalin was a "kind" man often ready to break into tears. His feared security chief, Lavrenty Beria, was "weird". "He tore all the papers on his desk into small pieces and tossed them around his office," she said.

And the current President, Boris Yeltsin, sometimes sneaks off to a church in the Kremlin's grounds, she said in an interview published yesterday in the daily Komsomolskaya Pravda.

"I've heard he secretly visits the church and is praying quietly so that [Communist leader Gennady] Zyuganov doesn't see him," she said. "Can you rule Russia without God?"

Ms Malinkina, who is in her eighties and still works at the Kremlin, said she is so well-known that only she and Mr Yeltsin are not asked to show identification when entering the building. She joined the Kremlin staff in the winter of 1937 at the height of Stalin's purges, which claimed countless lives, but said she never feared him. "He was a very short man and so kind too," she said. "He had a very tender look and his eyes were often full of tears. He had such a pity for simple people." Ms Malinkina is a religious woman, and said the only time Stalin offended her was when he ordered a church bell to be thrown off a Kremlin bell tower.

For her, all Kremlin dwellers fall into two categories: those who wipe their feet at the door and those who don't. Mr Yeltsin falls into the first, along with Stalin and former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.

Ms Malinkina, nicknamed "Baba Polya", said that her only dream, unfulfilled after 60 years, was to get a telephone in her apartment. "What if they need me urgently at the Kremlin?" she said.