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Gorbachev to Gates: "Have Mercy!"

In 1987, President Reagan stood in front of the Berlin Wall and made his impassioned request to then Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev, "Mister Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" Nearly two decades later, it's Gorbachev's turn to reach out to a powerful world figure -- Bill Gates -- with his own emotional plea. The request: to intercede on behalf of a Russian teacher accused of using pirated software in his classroom.

Prosecutors have accused Alexander Ponosov, headmaster of a middle school a remote Russian village, of violating Microsoft's intellectual property rules by using unlicensed copies of Microsoft software on his school's computers. Russia has been cracking down on piracy as part of its efforts to join the World Trade Organization. The punishment for this crime could be life in a Siberian prison.

In an open letter posted on the Internet site of Gorbachev's charitable foundation (www.gorby.ru), Gorbachev says that the teacher was totally unaware he was committing a crime, and therefore should be shown compassion. While recognizing the importance of punishing intentional piracy, Gorbachev pleads with the Microsoft mogul to show mercy and have the company withdraw its complaint against the teacher.

"This noble step will be enthusiastically received by all those in Russia who use Microsoft products." Gorbachev contends.