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Kuchma Appoints Top Military Man New Ukraine Defense Minister

Kyiv, July 11 (RFE/RL) -- Ukraine's President Leonid Kuchma today named a top military officer as the country's new defense minister.

A presidential spokesman said Lieutenant-General Olexander Kuzmuk, previously head of Ukraine's elite National Guard, had been appointed by presidential decree. Kuzmuk has also served as a senior commander of Ukrainian troops in the Crimean peninsula.

Kuzmuk replaces Valery Shmarov, who was dismissed by Kuchma on Monday. Shmarov, the first civilian to serve as Ukraine's defense minister, had been sharply criticized over unpaid wages and discontent within military ranks.

Interfax Ukraine news agency quoted Kuchma as saying Shmarov had badly managed reform of the military, and did not set up close links with industrialists and manufacturers of arms and spare parts.

During his nearly two-year term, Shmarov established close ties with NATO and the United States, and oversaw Ukraine's transfer of thousands of nuclear weapons to Russia.

Meanwhile striking coal miners moved their protest to the country's railroads today, blocking tracks leading in and out of the eastern city of Donetsk.

Correspondents said thousands of train passengers were stranded as miners laid themselves across railroad tracks in an effort to block coal shipments.

Coal miners in the region have been striking since last week, demanding 105 trillion karbovantsy (525 million dollars) in unpaid back wages.

Itar-Tass news agency says the decision to block railroad lines came after unsuccessful negotiations yesterday between the miners and a government delegation led by Deputy Prime Minister Vasily Durdinets.