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Kyrgyz talks on future of US base

Manas US air base outside the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek
The US base has been the focus of local protests

The top US military commander for the Middle East and Central Asia has held talks in Kyrgyzstan about the future of a prized US air base there.

Gen David Petraeus said he wanted to ensure that Kyrgyzstan derived greater benefits from hosting the facility.

Unnamed Kyrgyz officials have been quoted in reports as saying the base may be closed, amid pressure and offers of loans and investment from Russia.

But Gen Petraeus insisted the closure of the base had not been discussed.

The Manas base - just outside the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek - supports operations in Afghanistan and is the only American one in Central Asia.

It has been the focus of repeated street protests after controversies such as the shooting dead of a Kyrgyz man by a US soldier in 2006.

Map
The presence of a US base deep in territory that used to be part of the former Soviet Union and bordering China is of concern to Beijing and Moscow, which also operates an air base in Kyrgyzstan.

There has been repeated speculation that Kyrgyzstan would close the base - particularly in light of the $2bn (1.4bn) in investment and loans Russia has offered the impoverished nation.

Kyrgyz officials have been repeatedly quoted in media, including Russian outlets, as saying that the Kyrgyz president would announce the closure of the base ahead of a visit to Moscow early next month.

'Benefits'

But Gen Petraeus said he had discussed boosting co-operation and US aid programmes for Kyrgyzstan in talks with Prime Minister Igor Chudinov.

"I noted our desire to increase the benefits that accrue to your country from Manas and the other activities," he said, noting that Kyrgyzstan received $150m-worth of US assistance per year.

"We will be sending a team of senior officers here in February to discuss in concrete ways various programmes that we can undertake," he added, according to AFP news agency.

Gen Petraeus was also expected to discuss the opening up of alternative supply routes from the north for international forces in Afghanistan.

As part of his tour, the general has also visited Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.

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