Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice began a three-day visit to Central Asia in the former Soviet republic, Kyrgyzstan, where she also visited American troops stationed there. She says that democracy is the best way to counter terrorism.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says her visit to the strategic region is to demonstrate support for moves toward democracy as a means to counter terrorism and extremism.

Secretary Rice began her trip in Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet republic where a popular uprising brought down an unpopular autocratic president in March.

Ms. Rice also acknowledged the role of the military in the region by greeting American and other international troops at the Manas airbase, near the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek.

The troops have been stationed in Kyrgyzstan to support ongoing combat and relief operations in neighboring Afghanistan, where the secretary is to travel, Wednesday.

The top American diplomat will also go to Tajikistan and Kazakhstan but not to Uzbekistan, where American troops are preparing to leave a military base there after being told to leave by that country's authoritarian leader.

U.S. relations with Uzbekistan came under strain after Washington called for an international inquiry into a military crackdown against civilians there in May.

Human rights groups say Uzbek troops killed hundreds of people who gathered to protest government policies during an uprising in Andijan.

In comments to reporters, Secretary Rice claimed that U.S. support for the probe demonstrated commitment to democratic principles, even though it severely strained relations with Uzbekistan.

Uzbek authorities insist that troops were forced to put down an uprising led in part by foreign Islamic radicals who wanted to overthrow the government.

The secretary also says the United States is not seeking to use or establish another military base in Central Asia, and that Washington is not competing with Russia for influence in the region.

Russia and China sided with the Uzbek leaders version of the Andijan events and some Russian media say Moscow aims to regain its traditional hegemony in countries that once belonged to the Soviet Union.

American officials say Secretary Rice may include a brief stop in Pakistan to assess relief efforts in the wake of Saturday's devastating earthquake.