Kyrgyzstan votes to shut key US air base

Original source: Kyrgyzstan's parliament voted on Thursday to close a key US air base in the country.

Deputies voted 78-1 for the government-backed Bill to cancel the lease agreement on the Manas air base, a transit point for 15,000 troops and 500 tons of cargo each month to and from Afghanistan.

President Kurmanbek Bakiyev called for the closure of Manas this month, complaining that Washington was not paying enough rent for the base.

When Mr Bakiyev signs the Bill and Kyrgyz authorities issue the eviction notice, the US will have 180 days to vacate, hampering the White House's plan to pour a further 17,000 US troops into Afghanistan this spring.

Democratic Party of Kazakhstan deputy Nurbyubyu Kerimova said: 'The decision to shut the US base reflects the will of the Kyrgyz people.'

Communist deputy Ishak Masaliyev argued that the vote could help improve ties between Kyrgyzstan and Russia.

Mr Masaliyev said: 'We in Kyrgyzstan do not need anybody else's base - we have always advocated a union with Russia.'

Widespread public discontent in Kyrgyzstan over the US military presence has intensified in recent years.

In late 2006, a US soldier fatally shot lorry driver Alexander Ivanov during a routine security check.

US officials maintained that Mr Ivanov had threatened the soldier with a knife.

Addressing deputies before the vote, Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Kadyrbek Sarbayev said: 'So far, no American soldier has appeared in court.'

Mr Sarbayev also complained that the US has failed to adequately compensate Kyrgyzstan for $650,000 worth of damage caused to a civilian plane when it collided with a US tanker aircraft.

Russia established an air base in Kyrgyzstan in 2003, after the US base opened in late 2001.

Moscow's perceived pressure on Kyrgyzstan to expel US forces has been greeted with frustration in Washington.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said: 'I think that the Russians are trying to have it both ways with respect to Afghanistan in terms of Manas.

'On one hand you're making positive noises about working with us in Afghanistan and on the other hand you're working against us in terms of that airfield, which is clearly important to us.'