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UKRAINE TO REDUCE ITS ARMED FORCES TO 100,000 BY 2015. Ukrainian Defense Minister Yevhen Marchuk said on 29 July that Ukrainian armed forces will be reduced to 100,000 troops by 2015, UNIAN reported. Marchuk presented the Strategic Defense Bulletin at a press conference in Kyiv the document outlining threats to Ukraine's national security and the duties of the state and the armed forces in countering these threats. The bulletin also provides a two-stage process of reform for the military. In the first stage, to be finished by 2009, the Ukrainian army would be reduced to 200,000 troops. The second step, to be completed by 2015, is the reduction to 100,000, and foresees outfitting the army with the most modern equipment. Defense spending, according to the bulletin, will increase from the current 5.6 billion hryvnyas ($1.06 billion) to 17.2 billion hrynyas in 2015. Ukraine currently has some 350,000 troops in its military. AM

TWO NEW CANDIDATES JOIN PRESIDENTIAL RACE IN UKRAINE. The Central Election Commission on 29 July officially registered Vitaliy Kononov, the leader of the Green Party, and Volodymyr Nechyporuk, the head of the newly created People's Power party, as candidates for the 31 October presidential election, Interfax reported. Nechyporuk was registered after correcting and resubmitting his documents which had included provisions, as the Supreme Court noted, inconsistent with the Ukrainian Constitution. The number of registered candidates stands at 22. AM

HILL SAYS TRANSDNIESTER ATTEMPTING TO FORCE STATE RECOGNITION THROUGH SCHOOL CRISIS. William Hill, head of the OSCE mission in Moldova, said in Chisinau on 29 July that by provoking the crisis over the teaching in schools of Moldovan (Romanian) with the Latin script, the Transdniester authorities are trying to bring about the recognition of the region's separate statehood, Flux reported. Hill said the authorities in Tiraspol should realize that political problems can only be solved at the negotiation table. Hill also said that the three mediators in the conflict (Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE) have drafted a plan aimed at lessening tension in the region and that Moldova has already accepted the plan, which "pertains to the schools' problem and the negotiations process." MS

LARGE PROTEST AGAINST SOCIAL-BENEFITS REFORM HELD IN CENTRAL MOSCOW. Around 2,000 people gathered in Moscow's Revolution Square on 29 July to protest against a government-sponsored bill that would replace in-kind social benefits with cash payments, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2004). Participating in the meeting were Chornobyl survivors and members of the Communist, Yabloko, Motherland, and Liberal Democratic parties under the slogan, "All for One," ITAR-TASS reported. Protesters carried signs reading "Hands off Benefits!" and "It's Easy to Cancel [Something], Harder to Resolve It." Traffic police prevented 16 buses carrying rally participants from entering Moscow, telling them that a police escort was on the way. However, a number of the protesters decided not to wait and took the subway instead, Ekho Moskvy reported. The bill altering benefits is scheduled for a second reading in the State Duma on 3 August. JAC

UKRAINIAN EXPERT CALLS FOR GUUAM TO BE DISSOLVED. Kirill Frolov, head of the Ukraine department of the Institute for the CIS, has called on Moscow to try to secure the abolition of the GUUAM regional organization that comprises Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Moldova, reported on 28 July. In an interview with that website, Frolov branded GUUAM a focus of anti-Russian intrigues and predicted that a victory by opposition Our Ukraine candidate Viktor Yushchenko in the 31 October Ukrainian presidential election would greatly strengthen it. Commenting on recent talks between President Vladimir Putin and Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov on military-technical cooperation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June 2004), Frolov said that as a condition for military aid to the Karimov regime, Moscow should demand from Tashkent a commitment to quit GUUAM. "I do not understand why we do not do that. The reptile should be crushed," concluded Frolov. VY