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Bishkek seeking no closure of U.S. base - speaker

RIA Novosti

12/02/2007 16:37 BISHKEK, February 12 (RIA Novosti) - Kyrgyzstan does not insist on closing a U.S. base or stripping American servicemen in the country of diplomatic immunity, the Kyrgyz parliamentary speaker said Monday.

Calls on the government to consider closing the airbase at Manas, which the United States has used since launching its antiterrorism campaign in neighboring Afghanistan in 2001, arose last year following a string of accidents at the base involving U.S. troops, including the killing of a Kyrgyz national and a plane's collision with a tanker.

"We are not posing the question that way now, and we are not saying 'go away'," Marat Sultanov said.

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev demanded that American servicemen stationed in the country be stripped of diplomatic immunity after Alexander Ivanov, 42, a driver with the fuel services company Aircraft Petroleum Management and a father of two, was shot dead December 6 by an airman identified by Kyrgyz investigators as Zachary Hatfield while undergoing a routine security check at the Manas airbase.

Located south of Biskek, the country's capital, Manas is the only U.S. base in post-Soviet Central Asia since Uzbekistan evicted American troops from its territory in 2005. Kyrgyzstan recently raised the leasing fee for the Manas base from the current $2.6 million to $150 million as of 2007.

"Whether it was good or bad, Kyrgyzstan first offered [the U.S.] large discounts, but that time has passed, and both the Kyrgyz budget and nation must make a profit from the deployment of the airbase here," Sultanov said.

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