Election Results Threaten U.S. Presence At Manas Air Base

By Richard Orange

Political parties backed by Russia are poised to take power in Kyrgyzstan, threatening closure for a strategic U.S. airbase for the war in Afghanistan.

The staunchly nationalist Ata-Zhurt party had taken a clear lead by Monday afternoon in what international observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) called a "vibrant" election which "reflected the will of the people of the Kyrgyz Republic."

Ata-Zhurt has made closing the Manas Transit Center, a vital link in U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, a central part of its political program. The previous government had vowed to keep it open.

"The American base has become a source of conflict," Kamchibek Tashiyev, the Ata-Zhurt chairman, said in an interview last month. "The American base should not be on the territory of our country."

The base opened three months after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Its air refueling tankers are a crucial supply link for the Afghan war. Since Uzbekistan evicted a U.S. airbase five years ago, the nearest alternative is the U.S. airbase in Bahrain. The far greater distance would significantly add to the cost of fueling the war.

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Kyrgyzstan is the only country in the world to host both a U.S. and a Russian airbase. Moscow has long resented the U.S. military presence.

The fate of the Manas base appeared last night to sit with Respublika, a newly formed political party led by Omurbek Bobanov, a Kyrgyz business tycoon, who can either anoint the Ata-Zhurt, or the Social Democratic Party.

Last month Vladimir Putin, Russia's Prime Minister, met Almazbek Atambayev, leader of the Social Democratic party, while Dmitri Medvedev, Russia's President, met Felix Kulov, whose Ar-Namys party is in third place.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev last week met Kamchibek Tashiev, the leader of the Ata-Zhurt party.
Central Asia Newswire