New Kyrgyz rulers hail Russia, aim to shut US base
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Last Updated: Friday, April 09, 2010, 09:52
  
Bishkek: Kyrgyzstan's self-proclaimed new leadership said on Thursday that Russia had helped to oust President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, and that they aimed to close a US airbase that has irritated Moscow.

Their comments set Wednesday's overthrow of Bakiyev, who fled the capital Bishkek as crowds stormed government buildings, firmly in the context of superpower rivalry in central Asia.

No sooner had presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev signed an arms reduction pact in Prague as part of an effort to "reset" strained relations than a senior official in Medvedev's delegation urged Kyrgyzstan's new rulers to shut the base.

The official, who declined to be named, noted that Bakiyev had not fulfilled a promise to shut the Manas airbase, which the United States uses to supply NATO troops in Afghanistan. He said there should be only one base in Kyrgyzstan -- a Russian one.

Omurbek Tekebayev, a former Kyrgyz opposition leader who took charge of constitutional matters in the new government, said that "Russia played its role in ousting Bakiyev."

"You've seen the level of Russia's joy when they saw Bakiyev gone," he said. "So now there is a high probability that the duration of the US air base's presence in Kyrgyzstan will be shortened."

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin denied that Moscow had played a part in the turmoil in the former Soviet republic, which Russia openly regards as part of its own back yard.

But he was the first foreign leader to recognize opposition figure Roza Otunbayeva as leader of Kyrgyzstan, and rang her soon after she said she was in charge.

The United States said it had not yet decided whether to recognise Otunbayeva's government, and did not say who it believed was in control.

Russia's top general said 150 paratroopers had been sent to Russia's own Kant base in Kyrgyzstan, and Medvedev's office said they would protect Russian citizens at its embassy and other diplomatic facilities.

Otunbayeva, who once served as Bakiyev's foreign minister, said the interim government controlled the whole country except for Bakiyev's power base of Osh and Jalalabad in the south, and had the backing of the armed forces and border guards.

She said the situation in Kyrgyzstan's economy was "fairly alarming" and it would need foreign aid. She said Putin had asked how Russia could help.

Flying to Moscow,/b>

"We agreed that my first deputy and the republic's former prime minister, Almaz Atambayev, would fly to Moscow and formulate our needs," she told Russian Ekho Moskvy radio.

Putin did not promise a specific sum, she said. "But the fact that he called, spoke nicely, went into detail, asked about details -- generally, I was moved by that. It is a signal."

Otunbayeva said Bakiyev was holed up in Jalalabad. "What we did yesterday was our answer to the repression and tyranny against the people by the Bakiyev regime," she told reporters.

Kyrgyzstan, a country of 5.3 million people, has few natural resources but has made the most of its position at the intersection of Russian, US and Chinese spheres of influence.

Washington has used Manas to supply US-led NATO forces fighting Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan since losing similar facilities in Uzbekistan, apparently after pressure from Moscow.

Bureau Report


First Published: Friday, April 09, 2010, 09:52


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