December 9, 2013 - 09:46 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Hundreds of thousands of protesters have poured into the streets of Ukraine's capital, toppling a statue of former Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin and blockading key government buildings in an escalating stand-off with the president over the future of the country, Belfast Telegraph reported.
The biggest demonstration in the former Soviet republic since Ukraine's pro-democracy Orange Revolution in 2004 led the government to fire back. It announced an investigation of opposition leaders for an alleged attempt to seize power and warned the demonstrators they could face criminal charges.
The West pressed for a peaceful settlement.
Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians flooded the centre of Kiev, the capital, to demand President Viktor Yanukovych's removal after he ditched ties with the European Union in favour of Russia and sent police to break up an earlier protest in the nearly three-week stand-off.
Packing Independence Square as far as the eye could see, Ukrainians waving EU flags sang the national anthem and shouted "Resignation!" and "Down with the gang!" in a reference to Yanukovych's regime.
"I am convinced that after these events, dictatorship will never survive in our country," world boxing champion and top opposition leader Vitali Klitschko said. "People will not tolerate when they are beaten, when their mouths are shut, when their principles and values are ignored."
As darkness fell, the conflict escalated further with protesters blockading key government buildings in Kiev with cars, barricades and tents.
The protests have had an anti-Russian component. About half a mile from the main square, one group of anti-government protesters toppled the city's landmark statue of Lenin and decapitated it.
Protesters then took turns beating on the torso of the fallen statue, while others lined up to collect a piece of the stone. The crowd chanted "Glory to Ukraine!"
"Goodbye, Communist legacy," Andriy Shevchenko, an opposition politician, wrote on Twitter. The demonstrations erupted last month after Yanukovych shelved a long-planned treaty with the 28-nation European Union to focus on ties with Russia.