Georgia removed an historic bronze statue of Joseph Stalin from the main square in his home town of Gori overnight.

Officials said the six-metre statue would be moved to a local museum.

It will be replaced in the city's central square, which was bombed during Georgia's 2008 war with Russia, with a monument to victims of the conflict.

Culture Minister Nika Rurua said: 'We have taken the decision to remove the monument of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin from the central square of Gori and to build in its place a memorial to victims of the Soviet dictatorship and to those killed in the 2008 war.

'Stalin was a man who killed millions of innocent people, who killed the best representatives of not only Georgian society but the best people in many countries. I believe this decision was overdue.'

The statue had stood in Gori since 1952 and generated controversy in recent years as the government of President Mikheil Saakashvili repeatedly hinted it would be removed.

Many local residents remain proud of Stalin and opposed plans to remove the monument.

Local media reported that police sealed off the area around the statue during the removal.

The huge statue of Stalin, in an overcoat staring out over the Caucasus Mountains, was one of the few monuments to the dictator still standing anywhere in the world.

Born as Joseph Dzhugashvili in Gori in 1878, Stalin ruled the Soviet Union from the 1920s to his death in 1953.