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Kyrgyz Leader Praises Regional Role Of U.S. Air Base

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev (right) and U.S. Ambassador Tatiana Gfoeller lay a wreath at a monument to victims of the 9/11 tragedy at Manas air base.
MANAS, Kyrgyzstan (Reuters) -- Kyrgyzstan's President Kurmanbek Bakiev has praised the role of the U.S. airbase in his country that he had sought to close down earlier this year.

At a ceremony to mark the victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, which triggered the Afghan war, Bakiev said the Manas base had helped secure the Central Asian region.

The base lease was extended after Washington agreed a $180 million payment to Bishkek and renamed the base as a transit center to supply troops battling the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Getting Bishkek to reverse its February decision to close the base was a crucial victory for Washington, which is seeking to more than double its presence in Afghanistan by year's end to fight the Taliban insurgency.

At the memorial ceremony where few U.S. servicemen were visible, Bakiev said the base was his country's contribution to the fight on global terrorism.

"Over the eight years of operation of the air base in Kyrgyzstan, it has made a significant contribution to strengthening security in Afghanistan and the region as a whole," said Bakiyev.

The base was "Kyrgyzstan's important contribution to the fight against global terrorism," Bakiev said.

Bakiev had announced that the base would close during a visit to Moscow, just as Russia said it would offer $2 billion in crisis aid to the impoverished Central Asian ex-Soviet state. Moscow denied there was any link between the events.

The U.S. ambassador Tatiana Gfoeller said her country appreciated Bakiev's support in the fight against terrorism.

Bakiev and Gfoeller laid a wreath to commemorate the victims of the attacks in New York and Washington.

In August, Bakiev also announced Russia could open a second military base in the country, indicating a struggle for influence in the country from both Moscow and Washington.

Analysts say that if the security situation in Afghanistan deteriorates, it will spill over into neighboring Central Asian countries, creating a security threat to Russia and undermining U.S.-led efforts to stabilize the region.