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Kyrgyzstan votes to close US base in 2014

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Kyrgyzstan's parliament voted Thursday not to renew the lease of its Manas airbase from 2014 to the United States, which uses it to ferry troops and equipment for the coalition military campaign in Afghanistan.

The parliament passed a draft law under which the agreement between Kyrgyzstan and the United States signed in 2009 would end in July 2014.

US-led troops are set to pull out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and hand over to the Afghan forces.

The Kyrgyz parliament passed the draft measure in three readings with close to unanimous backing. It now has to be signed into law by President Almazbek Atambayev within a month.

Lawmakers also ratified an agreement on allowing NATO to use the Central Asian country as a land transit route that was signed in May in Chicago.

The air base facility is the number one strategic asset of the resource-poor Central Asian nation and for years has been a cause of tense negotiations with Washington, which paid high rent for the base.

Atambayev has repeatedly said that Bishkek is prepared to host the Manas base, which hosts about 1,500 US troops and contractors, until the current lease expires in 2014 but then wants the US military to go.

Atambayev has said hosting the base, which was created in 2001, is too much of a security risk for Kyrgyzstan, exposing it to the risk of attack by US foes like Islamic militants.

It has proved a highly useful source of foreign currency for Kyrgyzstan, with successive governments vying to win as much value as possible from the asset.

The government now wants to turn Manas into a full civil aviation hub for passenger planes, leaving the door open for a degree of potentially lucrative logistics cooperation with the United States.

Landlocked Kyrgyzstan is currently the only nation in the world to host both Russian and US bases.

Three US crew members died in May when their refuelling plane crashed in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan shortly after taking off from the Manas base.

tol-am/bm

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130620/kyrgyzstan-votes-close-us-base-2014