Leading Kyrgyz election candidate says sharp rent hike likely for US air base

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Kyrgyz candidate warns of rent hike for US base

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — The head of a leading party running for election in Kyrgyzstan said Thursday that an incoming coalition government would likely sharply increase the rent for a U.S. air base in the Central Asian country.

Ak-Shumkar leader Temir Sariyev said in an interview with The Associated Press that a government including his party would seek $100 million in annual rent for the Manas base, up from the current $60 million.

Sariyev is widely viewed as the main contender for the influential post of finance minister should the Ak-Shumkar-supported coalition gain power in Sunday’s parliamentary election.

The United States last year risked losing the base, which acts as a key transportation hub for the military effort in Afghanistan. But former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was deposed in bloody street protests in April, then approved a new one-year lease after Manas was designated as a transit center and the annual rent was increased more than threefold.

The new interim government extended the lease for a year in July, so it is unclear how conditions could be changed before that term expires.

Sariyev said a range of lease conditions would come under review. “There are a number of issues that need to be raised over the base, including the duration of the lease, inspection of transiting cargo and an increase to rent,” he said.

The U.S. Embassy in Kyrgyzstan said it was unable to comment immediately on Sariyev’s remarks.

“Our main priority in Kyrgyzstan at this time is to support the Oct. 10 election and re-establish democracy and work with the people and government of Kyrgyzstan,” embassy spokesman Christian Wright said.

Sariyev’s pro-business Ak-Shumkar is considered one of a handful of the 29 parties contesting the elections likely to win seats in parliament. Ata-Zhurt, the main political force opposed to the interim government, has said it wants to see the base closed.

The United States was granted an air base in Kyrgyzstan to aid in its military campaign in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But Russia, which views Kyrgyzstan as its own strategic backyard, has grown increasingly uncomfortable with the U.S. presence in the region.

Impoverished Kyrgyzstan’s location in the southern reaches of the former Soviet Union and on China’s mountainous western border has made it an object of a lively strategic rivalry. That is a position the interim government that has been ruling the country since Bakiyev’s ouster has sought to exploit as part of efforts to boost Kyrgyzstan’s anemic economy.

Last month, Defense Minister Abdilla Kudaiberdiyev announced that the government may seek a fourfold increase on the $4.5 million in annual rent that Russia pays for its air base and three other military facilities in Kyrgyzstan.


Associated Press reporter Peter Leonard contributed to this report from Osh, Kyrgyzstan.

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