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    Kyrgyz president signs decree on U.S. base withdrawal

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    Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev signed on Friday a decree to close a U.S. airbase used since 2001 to support NATO operations in nearby Afghanistan, his press service said.

    BISHKEK, February 20 (RIA Novosti) - Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev signed on Friday a decree to close a U.S. airbase used since 2001 to support NATO operations in nearby Afghanistan, his press service said.

    On Thursday Kyrgyzstan's single-chamber legislature approved the closure. The move was supported by 78 lawmakers, with one voting against. The pro-presidential Ak Zhol party has 70 seats in the 90-member legislature.

    Now that Bakiyev has signed the bill, the Kyrgyz government will notify the United States, giving it 180 days to withdraw some 1,200 personnel, aircraft and other equipment.

    President Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced plans to close the only U.S. 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 any link between the aid deal and the closure of the base, located a short distance from the capital, Bishkek.

    Bakiyev said Washington 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.
    U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates hinted at an informal meeting of NATO defense ministers on Thursday that Washington could pay more rent for the base.

    However, he said the United States would not squander taxpayers' money simply to keep the base intact and that it may look at alternative sites.

    The decision to close the base comes as U.S. President Barack Obama announced he would send an additional 17,000 soldiers to Afghanistan to fight Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters. The move will increase the U.S. contingent to more than 50,000 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 "northern corridor," which is likely to cross Russia into Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan before entering northern Afghanistan.

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