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Kyrgyzstan Stalls Vote on Closing U.S. Airbase

BISHKEK -- Kyrgyzstan effectively delayed a parliamentary vote on the closure of a U.S. airbase Monday by submitting additional paperwork to the chamber, buying time for more negotiations with the United States.

Kyrgyzstan said last week its decision to shut Manas, a key staging post for U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan, was final, but has yet to send Washington a formal eviction note.

Parliament is dominated by a pro-presidential political party and its actions usually reflect the will of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev's administration.

"We (recommend) the government also submit other draft laws related to the closure," said Leila Sadykova, head of the parliamentary defense committee which formally approved the government's decision to shut down the base Monday.

"We recommend that all these agreements be considered by parliament together," she said, referring to its broader international package of agreements that includes a clause on the U.S. use of Manas. Such a review is certain to delay the vote by at least several days.

The United States says negotiations are still continuing, but Kyrgyzstan, which needs parliamentary approval to go ahead with the decision, has denied that.

Kyrgyz officials Monday refused to comment on whether talks were continuing.

Bakiyev said on February 3 that Manas would be shut, just after Russia promised him more than $2 billion in aid and credit, roughly equivalent to half of Kyrgyzstan's entire economy.

That led some U.S. officials to believe that Russia, uneasy with the presence of U.S. troops in Central Asia, had pressured the tiny Muslim nation to do so. Moscow strongly denies that.

Myrza Kaparov, the Kyrgyz government envoy to the assembly, said the government would clarify its position as soon as Wednesday but said final voting may not take place until next week.

Closing Manas would pose a challenge for new U.S. President Barack Obama who plans to send additional troops to Afghanistan to boost NATO efforts to defeat Taliban insurgents.

It also leaves the United States scrambling to find alternative ways of delivering supplies to its troops in Afghanistan, a crucial task at a time when its main supply route in Pakistan is under pressure from militants.

Observers said delays in parliament, however technical, most likely signaled that talks were continuing behind closed doors.

"I don't think it (parliament voting) will happen any time over the next few days," said Iskhak Masaliyev, a Kyrgyz member of parliament. "There must be political reasons to this."

A spokesman for Manas, tucked away in the snowy foothills on the Tien Shan mountains, said the base continued to operate as usual. "We are waiting for the government's decision," he said. "It's all still up in the air."

© Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved

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BISHKEK -- Kyrgyzstan effectively delayed a parliamentary vote on the closure of a U.S. airbase Monday by submitting additional paperwork to the chamber, buying time for more negotiations with the United States.Kyrgyzstan said last week its decision to shut Manas, a key...
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