Ukraine - Independence Day
By Marina Sysoyeva

The Associated Press KYIV, Aug 24 - Ukraine marked its ninth independence day Thursday with a modest military parade in the capital and religious and political flare-ups – all amid hopes for the revival of an economy that has atrophied since the 1991 Soviet collapse. More than 3,000 servicemen from various forces marched along Kyiv’s central street Khreshchatyk to greet the country's leaders, including President Leonid Kuchma, Parliament Speaker Ivan Pliushch and Defense Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk, in an hour-long ceremony.

The parade was subdued compared to last year, when in addition to troops, the nation displayed rocket launchers, missiles and armored personnel carriers. Last year's celebrations came two months before presidential elections.

"Our people are going step by step on the path of creating a democratic and legal state," said Kuzmuk. "In a short period, much has been done for the development of a new state system, civil society, and establishment in world society."

But long-simmering tensions ran high on independence day.

Communists in the southern city of Mykolaiv clashed with nationalists who marched through the city with Ukrainian flags.

And four men beat a press secretary of the nationalist Rukh party Dmytro Ponamarchuk in Kyiv on the eve of independence day, Interfax-Ukraine reported.

About 1,000 nationalists demonstrated outside the Orthodox Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra monastery and hissed at Kuchma and other officials when they arrived for an opening ceremony of the newly restored Cathedral of the Assumption.

The cathedral was blessed by Senior Priest Volodymyr, who represents the Russian Orthodox patriarchy in Moscow - a fact that angered nationalists and parishioners of the Orthodox church that serves the Kyiv patriarchy, which broke away from the Russian one after the Soviet collapse.

Both patriarchies have churches across the country and conduct services in Russian and Ukrainian, but are in a bitter dispute over rights to church property.

"There are those who want to cause a conflict and upheaval even at such a great event," Kuchma said after opening the cathedral.

"This does not do anything to unite our church."

Since Ukraine proclaimed independence on August 24, 1991, a broad spectrum of religious, political and economic interests - often clashing - emerged. While the feuds have been divisive, many welcome the range of views, which would have been unheard of in Soviet times.

Ukraine's economy in the 1990s suffered hyperinflation, plummeting production and extremely slow market reforms. But positive economic indicators have begun to emerge since the appointment of a reformist government late last year.

The government has promised to cut spending and adopt a zero-deficit budget, is making steady pension payments, and enjoyed a five percent increase in gross domestic product in the first half of this year and industrial growth of 11.7 percent in the first seven months of Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko's tenure.

Still, after years of decline, many Ukrainians are skeptical about encouraging statistics and do not notice the changes.

"I think there will not be anything good," said Ivan

Hryhorovych, a 65 year-old retiree. "They only take the loans from abroad. Who is supposed to pay them back? We are, ordinary people."

Photos of Independence Day Parade in Kyiv

Ukrainians Celebrate Independence Day in front of Kyiv Parliment

Protesters snatch Communist flag during demonstration

News on the movement for independence of the Ukrainian Church

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