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Kyrgyzstan still talking to US on base

KYRGYZSTAN is still in talks with the United States over a key US air base that the Kyrgyz president wants closed, the country's prime minister said yesterday.

Law makers earlier decided to delay until next week a vote on a plan to close the Manas air base, which is an important element in the US and NATO military campaign in Afghanistan.

The delay appeared to give the US additional time to persuade Kyrgyzstan to back off from the closure decision announced on Tuesday by President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Kyrgyz officials previously had said the decision was irreversible.

Prime Minister Igor Chudinov did not give details, but said "We are in the process of negotiations with the Americans."

Bakiyev announced this week his country had decided to close the base, shortly after securing billions of dollars in loans and aid from Russia.

Kyrgyzstan has repeatedly complained the US is paying too little to lease the base. But Chudinov ruled out suggestions that the closure decision was connected to Russia's US$2 billion assistance package.

"Talks on Russian aid have been going on for two years, and they were in no way related to the issue of the removal of the air base from Kyrgyzstan," Chudinov said.

Chudinov also said that his government has repeatedly raised the issue of the amount of rent paid for the air base.

In a visit to the base last month, General David Petraeus, commander of US operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, said the US currently pumps US$150 million annually into Kyrgyzstan's economy, including US$63 million in rent for Manas.

Increasing attacks on transportation depots and truck convoys in Pakistan have raised doubts about the US' ability to protect vital supply routes and have increased the need for alternative routes through Central Asia.


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