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Kyrgyzstan set to shut vital US base

KYRGYZSTAN yesterday began moves to close a United States military air base in the former Soviet republic which is vital for supplying US-led troops fighting in Afghanistan.

The decision sends a tough signal and challenge to new US President Barack Obama as he plans to send additional troops to Afghanistan.

The base is an important staging post for the US-led military campaign against the Taliban and its role has been heightened as Washington seeks to reinforce supply routes that bypass Pakistan, where supply convoys face security risks.

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced the base would be shut after securing Russian financial aid at talks on Tuesday in Moscow.

The Kyrgyz government submitted to parliament a decree closing the Manas air base yesterday.

Adakhan Madumarov, secretary of the Kyrgyz Security Council, said in Moscow the US military would be given 180 days to close its operations and leave once the two sides had exchanged formal diplomatic notes outlining the intention. "The government has made its decision," he told reporters without saying when the exchange was likely to take place.

Parliament sources told Reuters it would soon start debating the decree and vote on the closure as soon as tomorrow.

Closing Washington's only military outpost in Central Asia would pose a challenge for US supply lines in the region, particularly after militants severed the main route into Afghanistan by blowing up a bridge in Pakistan this week.

US officials said talks on the base were under way.

"We have been discussing the base with Kyrgyz authorities for some time now. We hope those discussions will continue to the point where we reach some mutually beneficial outcome," said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell.

Many in Kyrgyzstan have criticised the presence of US troops, prompting Washington to explore possibilities in other parts of Central Asia including Uzbekistan which evicted US troops in 2005.

A top Moscow diplomat said yesterday that Russia will let the US send supplies across its territory to Afghanistan and offer flexible support.

Moscow had in recent days responded in principle to a United States request to provide logistical support to aid Washington's forces in Afghanistan, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said in a conference call with reporters.

"We positively reacted to the request of the United States for the transit through Russia of goods and materials to Afghanistan," Karasin said.

"We will be flexible in many other ways which will support our joint success in Afghanistan ?? that would be the basic school of thinking from which we will proceed," said Karasin.


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