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Kyrgyz communists urge U.S. base shutdown amid reports of delay


BISHKEK, June 11 (RIA Novosti) - Communists in Kyrgyzstan called on Thursday for the swift closure of the U.S. airbase in the country's north amid media reports that the decision could be revoked.

The Central Asian country's parliament has voted to terminate an agreement on the Manas base with the U.S. and 11 other countries involved in anti-terrorism operations in nearby Afghanistan. Personnel at the base are to withdraw before August 18.

"Media reports have said talks are being held with the U.S.," Communist faction leader Iskhak Masaliyev told parliament during a session attended by representatives of the president and the government. "I would like to remind you that the law must be fulfilled."

Masaliyev said the personnel at the base do not seem to be preparing to withdraw.

The Kyrgyz president's press office said on Thursday that President Barack Obama planned to send a high-level delegation to Kyrgyzstan soon "to step up cooperation in investment and socioeconomic projects."

Kurmanbek Bakiyev received the foreign minister on Thursday, who handed over Obama's message, in which the U.S. leader thanked Kyrgyzstan for its contribution to efforts to bring stability to Afghanistan and fight terrorism and drug trafficking.

Commenting on the planned visit, Foreign Minister Kadyrbek Sarbayev said the decision on the base could not be revoked.

"The decision has been adopted, and it cannot be retracted," Sarbayev told the 24.kg news agency.

The Manas base has been used since 2001 to support U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan.

A leading Kyrgyz analyst cited unnamed sources on Thursday as saying that the ex-Soviet republic planned to sign a new deal on Manas with Washington, which has allegedly agreed to pay more for its rent.

Alexander Knyazev, head of the regional branch of the Moscow-based CIS Institute think tank, also suggested that a final decision on the U.S. military presence in Kyrgyzstan would be made when the Russian and American presidents meet in Moscow in July.

"It is possible that the Manas airbase will remain in Kyrgyzstan in exchange for U.S. concessions to Russia," Knyazev said. "Russia above all seeks concessions on the planned U.S. missile defenses in Europe and Ukraine's NATO bid."

Bakiyev's decision in February to close the base, which is staffed by about 1,500 personnel, was seen as a victory for Russia in its rivalry with the West for influence in the region.

Bakiyev said the closure was due to Washington's refusal to pay for the base and public discontent over the conduct of U.S. military personnel. He denied a link between the decision and Russia's recent financial aid package.

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