US says flights resumed at Kyrgyzstan base

Last Updated: Friday, April 9, 2010 - 18:33

Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan): The US military says normal flights have resumed at its Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan after being halted during the country`s violent political unrest.

In an e-mailed statement to The Associated Press, U.S. Central Command spokesman Maj. John Redfield said normal flights had restarted as of Friday afternoon. Flights were halted Wednesday, the same day that security forces fired on crowds of demonstrators in the nearby capital of Bishkek.

Manas is a key support center for the international military campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan, a transit point for troops and refueling spot for warplanes.

Thousands of grieving, angry mourners flooded Bishkek`s main square Friday to honor victims of Kyrgyzstan`s revolt — with many blaming the country`s absent president for ordering troops to fire on those protesting his government.

They gathered on the sprawling Ala-Too Square, where protesters were shot dead at an opposition rally as some stormed the main government building in this Central Asian nation.

Meanwhile, the head of the opposition`s self-declared interim government in Kyrgyzstan said Friday there was no immediate intention to discuss whether a US air base can remain in the country following a bloody revolt that drove the president out of the capital.

The status of the base, which is key to supporting the international military campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan, has been a significant strategic question since the uprising Wednesday.

The health ministry of the ex-Soviet Central Asian nation said Friday that 76 people had died in the violence and more than 1,400 injured. That figure included 67 people injured overnight Thursday and early Friday in clashes between looters and security forces backed by vigilantes.

Roza Otunbayeva, a former foreign minister who once backed President Kurmanbek Bakiyev and now leads the opposition interim government, visited a Bishkek hospital on Friday and said she and her comrades would not negotiate with Bakiyev, who has fled to the country`s south where he has substantial clan support.

Opposition figures in the past have said they wanted the US base, at the international airport serving the capital, to close.

But Otunbayeva said the base agreement will be continued at least for the near future.

"We have no intentions whatsoever to deal with the American base now. Our priority is the lives of the people who suffered. A top priority is to normalize the situation, to secure peace and stability," she said.

In the square, people were sobbing for the lives lost.

"We grieve over our heroes. They are real heroes who have sacrificed their lives for the future of Kyrgyzstan," said Khatima Immamaliyeva, a 44-year-old office worker holding a red carnation and crying. "Bakiyev must bear responsibility for the deaths."

Another mourner, 26-year-old Azimbek Sariyev, said "my friend Talas perished. I hope he hasn`t died for nothing. We have ousted Bakiyev, and won`t allow the rulers to mock us."

Kyrgyzstan also hosts a Russian military base and is the only nation where both Cold War foes have bases.

US military officials said Kyrgyzstan halted flights for 12 hours Wednesday, confining troops to the air base; they did not say if flights had resumed. Some 1,100 troops are stationed there, including contingents from Spain and France, in support of NATO operations in Afghanistan.

President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev discussed the revolt in Kyrgyzstan before signing an arms treaty in Prague on Thursday.

Michael McFaul, Obama`s senior director for Russian affairs, emphasized that the US did not view the conflict as any kind of proxy struggle between the US and Russia.

"The people that are allegedly running Kyrgyzstan ... these are all people we`ve had contact with for many years," McFaul said. "This is not some anti-American coup, that we know for sure. And this is not some sponsored-by-the-Russians coup, there`s just no evidence of that."

In a sign that Russia may lend its support to the opposition, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called Otunbayeva on Thursday. Any suggestion that Russia is backing the new leadership would add to the pressure on Bakiyev to step down.

The deputy head of the interim government, Almazbek Atambayev, was flying to Moscow on Friday to talk with unspecified Russian government officials.

Bakiyev, who fled the northern capital for his stronghold in the south, told a Russian radio station on Thursday that "I don`t admit defeat in any way." But he also said he recognized that "even though I am president, I don`t have any real levers of power."

"What has taken place is a veritable orgy carried out by armed groups and I do not believe this is a defeat for me," Bakiyev said.

He spoke from southern Jalal-Abad region, where Bakiyev`s popularity is said to remain high — raising concerns he might try to secure his survival by exploiting the split between the more urban north and rural south.

Since coming to power in 2005 amid street protests known as the Tulip Revolution, Bakiyev had ensured a measure of stability. But the opposition said it came at the expense of democratic standards and accused Bakiyev of enriching himself and his family.

Bureau Report



First Published: Friday, April 9, 2010 - 18:33

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