Mitterrand's gift horse takes press for a ride

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PARIS - Enter Gengi, the Akhal- Teke stallion who has put Turkmenistan on the map. A week ago, Gengi, offered to France by President Saparmurat Nyazov when the Turkmen leader visited Paris last year, hit the headlines when President Francois Mitterrand, visiting the former Soviet republic, said his four-legged gift had arrived in poor condition after a two-month enforced quarantine in Moscow, writes Julian Nundy.

Asked by journalists in Ashkhabad where Gengi was now, Mr Mitterrand said he had gone to a private stable rather than a state one because he needed specialised veterinary treatment.

Gengi is one of only 3,000 of his breed. Others have been given to John Major and Boris Yeltsin. Gengi's fate was taken up with some enthusiasm by the French press, which set out to find the stallion. Mr Mitterrand, bawling out Elysee Palace staff about leaks on Saturday, mentioned the affair as one that had made the presidency look silly.

The Elysee has promised a photo opportunity, and Gengi will be paraded at a military barracks in Paris today.

If only the thoroughbred could tell his own story. The daily Liberation said it had found Gengi in particularly luxurious surroundings at Souzy- la-Briche, near Paris.