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US Urged to Quit Bases in Central Asia

An organization grouping Russia, China and Central Asian nations is urging the United States to set a timeline for withdrawing its military bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. The appeal comes at the start of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization's (SCO) two-day Summit in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana.

The U.S. bases at the heart of the organization's appeal were set up in the early days of the U.S.-led anti-terrorism coalition in Afghanistan. Members say due to the reported decline in fighting in Afghanistan, it is now important for the United States to clarify when it plans to remove its forces from the bases in member states Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Sergei Prikhodko, is quoted as saying the appeal is not meant to pressure the United States to pull its troops out immediately. But the statement is a sign of growing uneasiness with the United States ongoing presence in areas long viewed as traditional zones of Soviet influence.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was founded in 2001 by six countries, China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The group was formed to foster political, economic and security cooperation.

SCO member states also asserted their opposition to what they perceive as outside interference in internal affairs, especially regarding the recent political unrest in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. According to the wording of the SCO appeal, global peace and security will not be found, if one nation is allowed to dominate international affairs.

As if to highlight intentions to bolster the alliance in view of perceived threats from abroad, the organization accepted new members Iran, India, and Pakistan as observers, and announced that China would be taking over the alliance presidency.

Vyacheslav Nikonov is the president of the Moscow-based think-thank known as "Politika." He says the moves show the organization's intent to strengthen its role in world affairs.

Mr. Nikonov says by supporting an array of principles and players, the group attempts to assure itself greater stature and clout in the global political arena.

SCO leaders also approved new guidelines for cooperation in fighting terrorism, separatism and extremism.

Speaking at the start of Tuesday's Summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin said it is not enough to try to prevent terrorism from taking place. Mr. Putin says member states must also work on getting rid of the social and economic poverty that often sparks unrest.

President Putin also said alliance members should immediately develop a joint information system for countering new challenges and threats.