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Kyrgyz parliament votes to close U.S. airbase


BISHKEK, February 19 (RIA Novosti) - Kyrgyzstan's parliament voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to approve a presidential proposal to close a U.S. airbase used to support NATO operations in nearby Afghanistan since 2001.

The move to close the base was supported by 78 lawmakers, with one against. The pro-presidential Ak Zhol party has 70 seats in the single-chamber, 90-member legislature.

President Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced plans to close the U.S.'s only base in Central Asia after talks in Moscow in early February, when he secured more than $2 billion in aid and loans.

Both Russia and Kyrgyzstan have denied that the closure of the base, located a short distance from the capital Bishkek, was linked to the aid deal.

Bakiyev said the U.S. had refused to pay more for the base. He also linked the move to the conduct of U.S. military personnel, including the killing of a Kyrgyz national by a U.S. soldier in December 2006.

The closure comes as U.S. President Barack Obama intends to send an additional 17,000 soldiers to Afghanistan to fight Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters. The move will increase the U.S. contingent to 38,000 personnel.

Russia, which has an airbase in Kant, a short distance from the Manas base, recently said it was ready to broaden cooperation with Washington on non-military supplies to Afghanistan via the so called "northern corridor," which is likely to cross Russia into Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan before entering northern Afghanistan.

The base closure bill is still to be signed by the president. Once Bakiyev does this, the Kyrgyz government will notify the United States, giving it 180 days to withdraw some 1,200 personnel, aircraft and other equipment.

There is as yet no information on when Bakiyev will sign the bill into law.

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