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Russia Boosts Military Cooperation with Kyrgyzstan

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov says Russia plans significant investment in Kyrgyzstan, aimed at increasing military and security cooperation and ensuring regional stability. Mr. Ivanov unveiled the plans Wednesday in Kyrgyzstan's capital, Bishkek, where he completed two days of talks with leading officials.

Defense Minister Ivanov told reporters in Bishekek that under the terms of the contract just signed, Russia will supply Kyrgyzstan's army with three-million dollars worth of weapons.

The Russian defense minister says exactly what type of weapons supplied, and when, will be up to Kyrgyzstan to decide.

Mr. Ivanov also noted, in comments broadcast on Russian television, that as of September first this year, Russian military academies have been providing free training for members of Kyrgyzstan's military.

He also announced that Russia is planning to make long-term investments to develop its facilities out at Kyrgyzstan's Kant air base, which also hosts U.S troops nearby.

In separate comments to reporters, following talks with Mr. Ivanov Wednesday, Kyrgyz Prime Minister Felix Kulov said Russia remains, in his words, a priority.

Kyrgyzstan's leadership has been forced to balance competing Russian and U.S. interests in the region.

Earlier this year, President Kurmanbek Bakiyev successfully fought back a Russian and Chinese demand, calling for an end to the U.S. military presence in the region. That demand was brought before members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a regional security body that groups Kyrgyzstan and other former Soviet Central Asian states with Russia and China.

Following Mr. Ivanov's visit to Bishkek, it was also announced that Russia and Kyrgyzstan plan to hold joint military exercises within the SCO framework.

No date has been given for the exercises. But Defense Minister Ivanov says the aim will be to check combat readiness in the hopes of securing and strengthening stability in Central Asia.

In a separate development, protesters in southern Kyrgyzstan are calling for the re-instatement of Kyrgyzstan's prosecutor general, Azimbek Beknazarov, who was abruptly fired this week for alleged abuse of power. Interfax reports some 30 people are also protesting his dismissal outside government headquarters in Bishkek.

The prosecutor general has been a source of irritation to President Bakiyev's government of late, by repeatedly objecting to Kyrgyzstan's evacuation to the West of 400-plus Uzbek refugees, who earlier fled the May 13 uprising in the eastern Uzbek town of Andijan.