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Kyrgyzstan extends U.S. lease of air base

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan, April 16 (UPI) -- Kyrgyzstan's interim government said it will extend the U.S. lease of a key air base by another year.

"Kyrgyzstan is extending by one year the validity of the agreement with the United States over the Manas transit center," Omurbek Tekebayev, the deputy leader of the opposition, was quoted as saying by BBC News.

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Washington is using the air base in Manas to fly troops and equipment in and out of Afghanistan. After the bloody unrest that ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev last week, the U.S. government had been worried that the opposition would throw the Americans out.

The move to keep them in for another year was announced a day after Bakiyev boarded a plane to neighboring Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan is chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and together with the United States is eager is to stabilize the situation in Kyrgyzstan. Observers are worried that a civil war could break out between Bakiyev's supporters and the opposition.

A country of 5 million in the mountains of Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan is one of the poorest countries of the former Soviet Union. Unlike its neighbors, Kyrgyzstan has no significant natural resources; more than half of the adult population is unemployed and its political system has been marred by instability and corruption.

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