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Kyrgyzstan President Signs Law to Close US Base


Kyrgyzstan President Kurmanbek Bakiyev has signed a law to close an air base that serves as a key supply facility for U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Mr. Bakiyev signed the measure Friday, one day after Kyrgyzstan's parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of a government-backed bill to end U.S. access to the Manas air base.

Kyrgyz authorities can now issue an eviction notice that will give U.S. forces 180 days to leave the facility.

In related news, a U.S. military officer says Tajikistan has approved the use of its roads and rail lines to transport non-military cargo through its territory to Afghanistan.

Rear Admiral Mark Harnitchek said on Tajik state television Friday the U.S. plans to ship up to 200 containers per week from Uzbekistan to Tajikistan, then on to Afghanistan.

Washington has been seeking to open alternative supply routes through Central Asia, and has also received permission from Russia and Kazakhstan to send non-lethal supplies to Afghanistan by rail.

Most U.S. and NATO shipments into Afghanistan have been arriving by road through Pakistan, but those convoys have increasingly come under attack from Taliban and al-Qaida militants.

On Thursday, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates played down Kyrgyzstan's moves to evict U.S. forces from the Manas air base. He said while the base is important, it is not irreplaceable.

President Bakiyev recently announced plans to close the base - the only one in the region open to U.S. forces - after Russia pledged to give Kyrgyzstan about $2 billion in loans and aid.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

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