President Mikhail Gorbachev ordered a halt Saturday to local decisions to dismantle statues of Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin.

Since July, Lenin monuments have been toppled and removed from a growing number of town squares on orders of local city councils.But outright vandalism also has been spreading including a destruction Saturday of the pedestal of the "eternal flame" monument in the Ukrainian city of Donetsk. The monument honors the Soviet fallen of World War II.

Gorbachev's presidential decree said the "outrages against the founder of the Soviet state" and other historical figures and symbols had to stop.

The decree ordered "the KGB, Ministry of Interior police and the procurator (or chief legal officer) to take the necessary measures to bring an end to the vandalism and to prosecute those disobeying the law."

The decree went into effect with its publication late Saturday perhaps occasioned by vandalism earlier in the night to the sacred World War II memorial in Donetsk.

But the measure was directed overall against the decisions by the city Soviets giving the green light to tearing down the Lenin monuments in their municipalites.

Lenin's statues started coming down in July after the 28th Party Congress ruled that he was only one in a long line of outstanding socialist thinkers and not the omniscient theorist as long taught in Soviet schools.

The assault on the ubiquitous Lenin monuments also stems from the Communist Party's decision in February to abandon its guaranteed one-party rule.

But the chief spur to the anti-Communist anger in the nation are the now openly read and published exposes, such as the "Gulag Archipelago" by Alexander Solzhenitsyn showing Lenin and not Josef Stalin as the founder of the Soviet labor camp system and the "Red Terror" of the 1920s.

Although the first Lenin statue was razed in July in the small Ukrainian town of Ternopol, the demolitions have spread to republican capitals like Tbilisi in Georgia.