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U.S. Criticizes Kyrgyzstan Over Hotel Fence

BISHKEK -- The United States has criticized Kyrgyzstan for destroying part of a fence surrounding a Western luxury hotel, saying its actions undermined investor confidence in the Central Asian state.

U.S.-Kyrgyz ties have been sour since 2006 when a U.S. airman shot dead a Kyrgyz man at a U.S. military base in Kyrgyzstan used by Washington for operations in Afghanistan.

Tensions rose last year when Washington criticized Kyrgyzstan for failing to meet international standards during an October referendum that strengthened President Kurmanbek Bakiev's hold on power.

Last week, officials tore down part of the fence around the glass-and-steel Hyatt hotel in Bishkek to allow public access to the statue of a Kyrgyz ballerina located on its premises.

The U.S. Embassy in Bishkek reacted angrily, sending a formal note of complaint to the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry.

"Two fundamental principles govern foreign investment: rule of law and contract sanctity," Lee Litzenberger, the embassy's charge d'affaires, told Reuters. "The actions of the mayor's office are inconsistent with both these principles, and will undermine investor confidence in Kyrgyzstan."

The eight-story Hyatt Regency, the only five-star hotel in Kyrgyzstan, is seen as a symbol of Western-style wealth in the impoverished country of 5 million where the monthly average wage is $137.

Room rates start at about $250, according to the hotel's website.

On July 24, the mayor's office sent bulldozers to flatten part of its fence and open a public passage to the monument of Bubusara Beyshenalieva, a ballerina revered in Kyrgyzstan.

The hotel, part of the U.S. Global Hyatt Corporation's network, said they were in talks with the city authorities.

"Our company has had two meetings with the mayor himself and we will have more meetings in the next few days," Puneet Tandon, the general manager of Hyatt Regency Bishkek, told Reuters.

"We are hopeful that there will be a mutually acceptable solution to this current issue."

The mayor's office has defended its actions, saying in a statement on July 29 the hotel had ignored state orders to provide free access to the monument.

Washington established its military air base in Kyrgyzstan in 2001 to support operations in Afghanistan. The former Soviet republic also hosts a Russian military air base.

Activists have held a number of anti-U.S. rallies in Bishkek calling on Washington to withdraw troops. So far the government has rejected opposition calls to evict U.S. troops.