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Kyrgyzstan delays vote on US base

US soldier at Manas base near Bishkek, 4 February 2009
Manas is the only US air base in Central Asia and is a vital transit point

Kyrgyzstan's parliament has delayed a vote on whether to close a key US air base that supports US and Nato operations in Afghanistan.

Parliament had been due to start debating the closure of the Manas base, but officials announced the vote would be put off until later in the month.

President Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced the closure plan on a visit to Moscow, where he was promised Russian aid.

US officials say negotiations over the lease of the base will continue.

It was not immediately clear why the vote was put on hold.

Earlier, the Kyrgyz government had submitted a decree to parliament for the closure of the base.

President Bakiyev had said his decision came after failed attempts to secure further financial assistance from the Americans.

A Kyrgyz government spokesman said the move was prompted by popular disapproval of the base.

But analysts suspect that Russia played a hand in influencing his decision after pledging $2bn (1.4bn) in aid, the BBC's Central Asia correspondent Rayhan Demytrie reports.

Diplomatic victory

Manas is the only US base in Central Asia and is a vital transit point for Nato and US operations in Afghanistan.

The fight against terrorism is not limited to building up military forces
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev

The move to shut the base comes at a critical moment, just as the new administration of US President Barack Obama plans a sharp increase in the number of American troops in Afghanistan.

For Russia, on the other hand, its closure would be a significant diplomatic victory as it seeks to reassert its influence in all former Soviet republics and beyond, correspondents say.

Moscow has given its support for Nato re-supplying its forces in Afghanistan, but has stopped short of agreeing to share a military presence in the former Soviet Union with the US.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Wednesday that Russia would provide "full-fledged, comprehensive co-operation with the United States and other coalition members in fighting terrorism in the region".

But he also appeared to criticise US policy, saying the fight against terrorism must include political as well as military components.

"It would be good if that would help reduce the number of terrorists, but the fight against terrorism is not limited to building up military forces," he said.

Financial deals

US officials said earlier they had received no notification of the closure, and were continuing discussions with the Kyrgyz government over the lease of the base.

map

Mr Bakiyev has said the Manas base - set up in 2001 to assist the US military operation against al-Qaeda and the Taleban in Afghanistan - was only meant to be open for two years at the most.

He has also made it clear the Americans had not been willing to pay what Bishkek regards as the right price to keep the base open.

A spokesman had earlier told the BBC that the US would have six months to close down operations after the measure was approved.

A number of financial deals which were secured by the Kyrgyz president on his visit to Russia had also been expected to be discussed on Thursday at the parliament.

The Russian government promised Kyrgyzstan $2bn in loans and another $150m in aid. The majority of the $2bn is to be invested in the country's troubled energy sector.

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