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Ukrainians urged to fight AIDS

KIEV, Ukraine -- Thousands of religious people demonstrated against the growing menace of AIDS in the Ukraine.

An estimated 15,000 people from a wide spectrum of religions urged others to turn to God in the fight against the fatal virus currently sweeping across the country.

While post-Communist era Ukraine has seen the growth of mainstream and minority religious movements, there has also seen an explosion in drug abuse, the sex trade, and the spread of AIDS.

AIDS is spreading faster among the Ukraine's 49 million population than anywhere else in Europe as a result of poverty, unemployment and ignorance.

More than 37,000 people are registered having the HIV virus which causes AIDS, chiefly drug users, but the World Health Organisation said recently it believed the figure could be 10 times higher.

A study by the Economics Institute of the Ukrainian Academy of Science said the AIDS epidemic in Ukraine could kill between 900,000 and 2.1 million people, with health experts predicting a peak between 2007-2016.

"AIDS is not a problem for God," marchers chanted as they walked, clapped and danced down the main Kreshchatyk street in Kiev on Sunday.

The demonstrators, of all ages carried national flags and banners proclaiming "Turn to God, he will help" and "You have a chance."

Families, Orthodox priests, Jewish and lesser-known religious groups walked together in the peaceful demonstration, organised under the slogan "Love against AIDS."

Police estimated that at least 15,000 took part, making it one of the largest demonstrations seen in Kiev, Reuters news agency reported.

The demonstrators urged Ukrainians to embrace religion and stricter morals.

"I've come here today to affirm my love of God and protest against AIDS. I want young people to realise they have a chance with Jesus," Vitaly, a student from Kiev, said.

• Ukraine Parliament
• World Health Organization

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