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U.S. Base In Kyrgyzstan Diverts Passenger Flights

The United States says some 50,000 troops passed through the Manas air base on their way to or from Afghanistan in March.

BISHKEK (Reuters) -- The U.S. military has reversed a decision to resume normal operations at its base in Kyrgyzstan and decided to divert all military passenger flights elsewhere and restrict cargo flights, officials said.

The fate of Manas air base, a central cog in the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan, has been in question since an uprising this week that forced the president to flee the capital, Bishkek.

The new Kyrgyz leadership has said it might shorten the U.S. lease on the base.

Earlier, Manas spokesman Major Rickardo Bodden told Reuters the base was again operating normally. But the U.S. military's Central Command, which oversees the base, said later in the day that all military passenger flights had been suspended and cargo flights were not guaranteed.

It did not explain its decision.

"While normal flight operations at Manas were resumed on Friday afternoon, the decision was made Friday evening to temporarily divert military passenger transport flights," a Central Command spokesman said.

"Decisions on conducting other, non-passenger-related, flight operations from the base will be made on a case-by-case basis."

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was a security-related decision made by the base commander on the ground at Manas.

Personnel at Manas have not been allowed to leave the base since deadly clashes erupted on April 7.

Pentagon officials say Manas is key to the war effort against the Taliban, allowing round-the-clock flights in and out of neighboring Afghanistan with about 50,000 troops passing through the base last month alone.

The fate of the base is being watched closely for signs of whether the new government will foster closer ties to the United States or Russia, which considers Kyrgyzstan part of its sphere of influence.

A senior Russian official this week called for the Manas base to be closed.

Still, the uprising may simply lead to fresh haggling over the air base, which has provided a lucrative source of income to Kyrgyzstan's governments.