Sun, Jan 18, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Kyrgyzstan plans to shut down US base in ‘matter of days’

AFP , BISHKEK

Kyrgystan will order the closure of a US military airbase used to support operations in Afghanistan “in a matter of days” under pressure from Russia, a senior Kyrgyz official told reporters.

“The presidential decree on the annulment of the agreement with the United States is already prepared. In a matter of days it will be published in the Kyrgyz media,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official said Russia had urged Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev to announce the closure of the base in exchange for financial help to the cash-strapped Central Asian nation.

Russian officials have discussed extending Kyrgyzstan a US$300 million loan as well as US$1.7 billion dollars of investment in the energy sector of the former Soviet republic.

“In exchange for such a large loan the Kremlin asked Bakiyev to voice the decision about the pullout of the US airbase from Kyrgyzstan before his official visit to Moscow,” the official said.

Bakiyev’s press service has said he would visit Moscow on Feb. 3.

Russia has sought the closure of the base, which is a symbol of US influence in post-Soviet Central Asia, a region long dominated by Moscow.

Kyrgyz officials said last month that they were preparing to close the base, located at Manas outside the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek, but the US denied that there were any plans to do so.

The base is home to about 1,200 foreign military personnel, mainly from the US, and acts as a staging post for operations in Afghanistan, located to the south.

It was opened after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to support US-led operations in Afghanistan.

In recent months there have been a number of street demonstrations demanding the closure of the US base, which is next to the Kyrgyzstan’s main international airport.

There have been tensions with the local population. A US guard shot dead a Kyrgyz truck driver in 2006 in what US officials said was self-defense.

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