Bakiyev says Russian anger a factor in Kyrgyz revolt

MINSK Fri Apr 23, 2010 9:04am EDT

1 of 3. Ousted Kyrgyz leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev enters the hall to attend a news conference in Minsk April 23, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Vasily Fedosenko

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MINSK (Reuters) - Deposed Kyrgyz president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, said on Friday Russian anger at his decision to keep a U.S. air base in the ex-Soviet state was a factor in his overthrow on April 7.

Speaking from the Belarussian capital Minsk, where he fled following a revolt against his five-year rule, Bakiyev said he had no plans to return and lead Kyrgyzstan.

Asked about speculation that Moscow may have played a role in the uprising, Bakiyev said Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had been unhappy at his decision in 2009 to extend the lease on the U.S. base.

"They told me: 'Why are you holding on to this Manas base, this worries us, this does not suit us'," Bakiyev told reporters in Russian at a news conference.

"Russia's leadership was irritated, annoyed by the presence of the base and this factor also played a certain role."

Bakiyev said Russian special forces may not have been directly involved in the revolt, but accused the Kremlin of meddling in the Central Asian country.

"Just like when the Soviet Union was still alive, everything still remains the same when Moscow would decide everything for us, despite our 20 years of independence," Bakiyev said.

Russia and the United States both operate military bases in the impoverished country of 5.3 million people, and the unrest has already disrupted operations at the U.S. Manas air base supplying troops in Afghanistan.

Suspicions that the Kremlin had a hand in the unrest were raised when Putin became the first world leader to recognize the new government by phoning interim leader Roza Otunbayeva just hours after she took power.

Putin has denied any Russian involvement though Russia has long dreamed of evicting the United States from Central Asia.

Bakiyev said Putin and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev had convinced him to flee Kyrgyzstan to avert a civil war.

"When Putin and Nazarbayev telephoned me, I said: 'I do not need a civil war here. What for? To hold on to this presidential chair and spill a sea of blood?' And so I said: 'I accept your offer, I will leave the country'," Bakiyev said.

U.S. BASE

Russian officials say Bakiyev betrayed Moscow last year by agreeing to close the U.S. base after securing at least $2 billion in aid and loans only to let Washington keep the lease, albeit at a higher price.

Bakiyev said Russia and ex-Soviet Central Asian neighbors rushed to offer their own airfields and transport corridors to the U.S.-led forces after he announced plans to close the base.

Kyrgyzstan's new rulers say a final decision on the U.S. base is unlikely to be made until after an October 10 election.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Thursday that the United States saw no problems with the Manas base deal and that the new Kyrgyz leadership had given assurances to Washington on future use of the air base.

Bakiyev said he had no plans to apply for political asylum, but said he was grateful to Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko for treating him like a president.

"I do not intend to return to Kyrgyzstan as president," Bakiyev said. "Alexander Grigoryevich (Lukashenko) treats me as president... I am very grateful to him for this."

(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky, writing by Guy Faulconbridge and Dmitry Solovyov, editing by Michael Stott and Lin Noueihed)

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