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Rice Addresses Military Relations in Kyrgyzstan

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Rice Addresses Military Relations in Kyrgyzstan

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Rice Addresses Military Relations in Kyrgyzstan

Rice Addresses Military Relations in Kyrgyzstan

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Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visits Kyrgyzstan Tuesday. The formal focus of her trip to Central Asia is to promote democracy in a region of autocratic rulers, but Rice also took the opportunity to reinforce the importance of U.S.-occupied military bases in the region.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in Central Asia trying to shore up US influence in a strategically vital part of the world. Today she arrived in Kyrgyzstan and visited a base that had been used by American forces for operations in nearby Afghanistan. NPR's Michele Kelemen is traveling with the secretary and she joins us now from Kyrgyzstan's capital, Bishkek.

And how important is it for the US to remain in bases in Central Asia, Michele?

MICHELE KELEMEN reporting:

Well, it's been very important for the continuing war in Afghanistan. You might remember that Uzbekistan is now telling the Americans to get out of a base there by the end of this year, so it's been very important to maintain the other bases that the US has been using in the region. Losing the Uzbek base is a big blow, but the military officials and State Department officials traveling with us say there are work-arounds, it's just getting to be more expensive. The one that's here in Kyrgyzstan, there are about a thousand US military personnel there. Secretary Rice stopped by and met with some of them today and gave them a bit of a pep talk. We're also going a little bit later on this trip to Tajikistan, and they've also allowed the US to use military bases there for resupply and logistics help for the war in Afghanistan. Now Rice says she doesn't want to make this the focus of her trip. She says military relations are pretty good with countries in the region and she wants to make this about democracy promotion.

MONTAGNE: Although promoting democratic reform could be a bit of a task in that region. What are her expectations?

KELEMEN: Well, it's interesting. Kyrgyzstan was the scene of what was called the Tulip Revolution, and some democratic activists here are worried that this revolution is now stuck in the mud. They're looking for some reassurances, some US support. The longtime leader, Askar Akayev, was forced out about six months ago, and the new president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, is starting to look a little bit more like his predecessor, according to some democracy activists here, so they're looking for some reassurances from the US. Secretary Rice said she was going to focus on constitutional reform here.

Tajikistan is a place that's been--there was an opposition leader jailed just last week, and Emomali Rakhmonov, the president there, has a tight hold on power.

And then Kazakhstan, interestingly enough, Secretary Rice sounded quite hopeful about that country. Earlier this year, Narsultan Nazarbayev, the president, his government was harassing NGOs, non-governmental organizations. Now he's heading into an election season and the secretary said she's hopeful that he'll have a free and fair election there. And when she was talking about him, she didn't talk about the last 15 years of his hold on power; instead, she talked about him, that she remembered him when he was a reformer in the Soviet Politburo during the Mikhail Gorbachev years.

MONTAGNE: Now the secretary is not far there from the region in Pakistan that was hit by that terrible earthquake. Is she planning to go there?

KELEMEN: Well, she says she is considering it. It is a possibility. We are going be in Afghanistan tomorrow, so they're working on that. She also talked at the base today here in Kyrgyzstan about military officials here aiding in the relief efforts. The US has been sending helicopters and C-17 planes to help in those relief efforts.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Michele Kelemen in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan's capital.

Thanks very much.

KELEMEN: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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