Gorbachev's misery

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MOSCOW - First came The Rich Also Cry, a shoddy but spectacularly popular Mexican soap opera watched on television by millions of Russians each week; then, yesterday, real life offered an even more enjoyable opportunity to rejoice in the tribulations of the perhaps not so rich, but certainly very famous - and this time the victim was none other than the man many Russians blame for their own miseries: Mikhail Gorbachev, writes Andrew Higgins.

According to the Itar-Tass news agency - still official, but a lot more entertaining these days - the former Soviet president has had his car stolen. And there will be few tears for him While Mr Gorbachev is still feted abroad as a hero, he is widely despised at home, and the thanks he won for introducing glasnost have been drowned out by a cacophony of complaints at soaring prices and rising crime.

Vladimir Tumarkin, a spokesman for the Gorbachev Foundation, where the former president now works, confirmed the theft of the car from the foundation's guarded compound over the weekend. He said it was one of three Volga sedans recently purchased by Mr Gorbachev's retirement think-tank.

Tass, like many ordinary Russians, clearly relished the news, Not content merely to report the robbery, it added insult to injury by reminding readers that Mr Gorbachev used to drive a Zil limousine instead of the more downmarket Volga.

Nor does Mr Gorbachev's misfortune end with his stolen car. Tass also reported yesterday that he would be asked to appear as a witness in a long-running trial of the Communist Party and the legality of Boris Yeltsin's decision to ban it. Earlier testimony in the court linked Mr Gorbachev with terrorism and other of the outlawed party's shady dealings.