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Souvenir-hunting as Lenin felled in Kiev; hundreds of thousands protest against the government
A protester breaks apart a statue of Lenin at a monument in his honor after it was pulled down during a mass rally called "The March of a Million" in Kiev's Independence Square on December 8, 2013. Ukrainians protesting against the government's rejection of a key pact with the European Union today toppled the statue of Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin in central Kiev, police said. Hundreds of thousands of pro-EU Ukrainians rallied in Kiev on December 8 for a new protest aimed at forcing President Viktor Yanukovych to resign after he sparked fury by rejecting an EU pact under Kremlin pressure. AFP PHOTO/ VASILY MAXIMOV.

By: Anatoliy Boiko

KIEV.- The almost seven-decade life of Russian revolution leader Vladimir Lenin's statue in Kiev ended in spectacular fashion, with a half backwards somersault and dive head-first into the ground.

As hundreds of thousands protested against the government of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and its rejection of a pact with the European Union, some 30 people in masks surrounded the statue in central Kiev.

They brandished the blue flags of the nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) group indicating they were likely linked to the party, two of whose deputies were also present.

A man placed a ladder against the massive plinth of the monument and climbed to the top of the statue itself. He placed a noose round the Lenin's neck and attached cables to the rope.

With the chords in place, the protestors then sought to pull the 3.4 metre (11 feet) high monument down but the massive stone monument for some 10 minutes refused to shift.

"Hang the Commie!" screamed the protesters.

Finally it budged. The statue of the Soviet Union's founder fell backwards from its pedestal as if in slow motion, plunged head first into the ground and was decapitated on impact.

Lenin is a figure of hate for Ukrainian nationalists, who accuse him of blocking the dream of an independent Ukraine and repressing Ukrainian language and culture.

The statue had first been erected in December 1946 just after World War II ended.

"What an unpleasant suicide!" later quipped Oleg Tyagnybok, the leader of Svoboda, in a statement released by his party.

In scenes reminiscent of the iconic images of the fall of the Berlin Wall, protestors immediately started using axes and hammers to destroy the statue as it lay on the ground.

Others then started to hammer away at its remnants to take pieces home as a historic souvenir as a huge crowd of press photographers looked on.

Some bystanders hugged each other, relieved to witness what they see as a symbol of repression and Russian supremacy finally knocked down.

'Yanukovych will also fall'

Few comparable episodes had taken place in the ex-USSR since angry Russian protestors toppled the statue of Soviet secret police founder Felix Dzerzhinsky in Moscow in 1991.

With temperatures hovering around zero and light snow falling, many sought to drive up to the scene and take pictures with their cameras and mobile telephones.

Parts of the statue -- including a piece of stone which was once Lenin's gigantic hand -- were afterwards triumphantly brandished at the main demonstration on Kiev's Independence Square.

The protesters installed on the empty plinth the Ukrainian state flag and the red and black banner of the wartime anti-Communist Ukrainian Insurgent Army, which carried out guerrilla attacks on the Red Army in western Ukraine in World War II and even into the early 1950s.

Cries of "Thank God" and "Finally" resounded from some 1,500 people at the scene.

The head of the Kiev administration, Alexander Popov, lambasted the destruction of the statue as vandalism. "And this has nothing to do with democracy."

Ukrainian Communists were predictably furious. "This is beyond the realms of civilised and cultured behaviour," fumed Communist Party MP Oksana Kaletnyk.

Police opened a probe into mass rioting over the toppling of the statue.

Svoboda -- which draws its support from the more nationalist west of Ukraine -- indicated that it was involved in the operation

"The patriots of Ukraine came and toppled this dummy," Svoboda MP Igor Myroshnychenko told Ukrainian journalists. "After the fall of Lenin in Kiev, the Yanukovych regime will fall too."

© 1994-2013 Agence France-Presse

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