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U.S., Kyrgyzstan agree to turn Manas base into 'transit center'


BISHKEK, June 23 (RIA Novosti) - The United States and Kyrgyzstan have signed a deal to create a "center of transit shipments" at a former U.S. air base at Manas airport, a source in the Kyrgyz government said on Tuesday.

The country's parliament is due to start discussions on the ratification of the agreement later in the day, a lawmaker told RIA Novosti.

"The center will be created at the airbase and most likely inherit all of its infrastructure," the source said, adding that the facilities would be used for the transit of non-lethal supplies to Afghanistan.

The Central Asian country's parliament earlier 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 set to withdraw before August 18.

However, media reports have said recently that the ex-Soviet republic could sign a new deal on Manas with Washington in exchange for economic incentives and also for U.S. concessions to Russia.

President Kurmanbek 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 higher rent charges for the base and public discontent over the conduct of U.S. military personnel. He denied a link between the decision and a large Russian financial aid package.

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