Kyrgyz Interim Leader Says U.S. Base Unjustified

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan - A top official in Kyrgyzstan's interim government told The Associated Press on Saturday that the U.S. air base used to support operations in Afghanistan is "not justified" -- days after the leader announced it could remain.

Azymbek Beknazarov -- a deputy head of the interim government that came to power last week after a bloody uprising -- told the AP that Washington compromised its position on promoting democracy in Kyrgyzstan so as not to put the strategic Manas transit center under threat of closure.

"All the Americans care about is that the military base stays," Beknazarov said. "They forgot about freedom, about democratic values. They forgot about Kyrgyzstan -- they are only looking at their military base."

"In my opinion, the Manas center's presence is not justified," he said.

Interim leader Roza Otunbayeva has said that her government will extend the current agreement allowing the U.S. to use the base for another year after it expires in July.

Beknazarov refused to comment when asked if he or anyone in the interim government will attempt to initiate the closure of the base, which began operating several months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and is the premier air mobility hub for U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

The U.S. Embassy in Bishkek refused to comment on Beknazarov's remarks, which echoed those of Otunbayeva months before the uprising, but U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake on a trip to Bishkek last week rejected suggestions of lackluster U.S. efforts to promote democratic under President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.

Bakiyev fled Bishkek to his stronghold in the south during the uprising, and left the country for neighboring Kazakhstan on Thursday.

Operations at Manas, meanwhile, have returned to normal after a brief lockdown during street disturbances that led to Bakiyev's ouster.