February 13, 2009 / 2:07 PM / 10 years ago

Kyrgyzstan bargains with U.S., Russia on airbase -MP

BISHKEK, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Kyrgyzstan is delaying a decision on whether to close the last U.S. airbase in Central Asia while it bargins with both the United States and Russia, the leader of the main opposition faction in parliament said on Friday.

President Kurmanbek Bakiyev said last week he wanted to evict U.S. forces from Manas airbase, an important staging post for U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan. He made the announcement in Moscow after securing more than $2 billion in Russian aid and credit.

But the formal eviction procedure requires parliamentary approval.

The parliament, dominated by Bakiyev’s Ak Zhol party, has not yet even set a date for voting on the issue, prompting speculation that talks with the U.S. were going on or that the decision would be made when Russia transfers the promised funds.

"It looks like they are waiting for Russia to wire the money," said Bakyt Beshimov, the leader of opposition Social Democratic party’s parliamentary faction.

"This is a game. And it’s called bargaining."

Beshimov said the voting could be delayed until April since it was not on February agenda and deputies will spend at least half of March meeting with voters.

Parliament spokesman Avlanbek Jumabayev confirmed that the voting could be delayed at least until March as there were more discussions and paperwork ahead.

"The defence committee discussed (the base closure) and raised a lot of questions (to the government)," he said.

"The Americans will start negotiations sooner or later anyway."

The United States says negotiations are still continuing and has expressed hope Kyrgyzstan may still change its mind. Bakiyev’s office, however, has said the decision is final. (Reporting by Olga Dzyubenko; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov)

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