US denies Kyrgyzstan plans to close base

WASHINGTON - The United States denied Thursday that the government of Kyrgyzstan to close the US military base at Bishkek airport which supports military operations in Afghanistan.

"That is untrue," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters when asked to comment on Kyrghyz government sources who said the base at Manas would close soon.

"Our charge d'affairs confirmed the fact that the Kyrghyz government is not taking such a step with the office of the president," McCormack said.

"We also had somebody, another official from the embassy confirm with the MFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) that that is, in fact, not happening," he said.

"So I'm not sure how this got started or who started such a rumor, but it is not true," McCormack said.

Kyrgyz sources told AFP on Wednesday that Kyrgyzstan is moving to close the base at Manas.

"We are preparing the papers necessary to close the base," a senior official in the Kyrgyz presidential administration said on condition of anonymity, confirming comments from sources in the foreign ministry and parliament.

The president of the Central Asian state, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, also made clear he foresaw the closure of the base outside the capital Bishkek, stating in an interview published by the Kabar state news agency that Western military operations in Afghanistan were over.

Bakiyev has repeatedly threatened to close the base, on each occasion coming to terms with the US administration after financial wrangling.

The Manas base is a potent symbol of US influence in Central Asia, which was a Moscow stronghold in Soviet times.

Russia has pressed for the closure of the base, which was opened after the September 11, 2001 attacks to support US-led operations in Afghanistan.

There have also been a number of street demonstrations demanding the base's closure in recent months.

The base is home to about 1,200 foreign military personnel, mainly from the United States, and acts as a staging post for operations in Afghanistan, located to the south.

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