Kyrgyzstan’s newly elected president, Almazbek Atambayev, announced upon his victory Oct. 31 that he will close Manas air base, which has been critical to the US campaign in Afghanistan. Atambayev said the lease for the US lease will not be renewed after it expires in 2014. He told the BBC: “The US base should be shut down. What if there is a war between the US and Iran, and in response Iran bombs the Manas? What will happen to us?” Atambayev served as prime minister under interim leader Roza Otunbayeva following last year’s revolution, and has steered a course closer to Russia, which also has military forces in Kyrgyzstan.
Atambayev pledged to unify the country, after more than 400 people were killed in fighting between Uzbek and Kyrgyz communities in the south last year. “I will never use ethnic labels—Uzbeks, Tatars, Kyrgyz,” he said. “In my own family we have many nationalities. I just want to tell you that in the future people who ignite inter-ethnic and regional tensions will be punished.” Atambayev’s assumption of the presidency will be the first time in Central Asia’s post-Soviet history that a change in executive power occurs via the ballot box. But he is likely to face a legitimacy crisis over widespread reports of election irregularities. (BBC News, FT, EurasiaNet, Oct. 31)
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