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Published: Monday, 4/19/2010

Turmoil in Asia

THE Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan, population 5.4 million and a former republic of the Soviet Union, appears to have experienced a bloody change of government.

The change would be a matter of interest virtually only to the people of Kyrgyzstan, except that the United States maintains an air base there that provides support for U.S. and other NATO forces fighting the war in Afghanistan.

Kyrgyzstan is also at the center of a sensitive region that includes China, Russia, Iran, and several predominantly Islamic republics that used to be part of the Soviet Union.

In 2005, President Kurmanbek Bakiyev took power in Kyrgyzstan's "Tulip Revolution," one of several "color" revolutions that occurred during that time.

Although he continues to insist he is president, Mr. Bakiyev has been forced to flee the capital Bishkek at the hands of an as-yet-inchoate opposition whose spokesman - and perhaps leader - is a former foreign minister named Roza Otunbayeva.

At least 76 Kyrgyz citizens died in the turmoil that accompanied the change. The opposition has said it intends to rule for a few months and will then hold elections.

Last year, the Kyrgyz government expressed its intention to close the air base, which apparently still has value to the United States. Kyrgyzstan's decision may have come at the instigation of Russia, which also has a military base in Kyrgyzstan and had provided a financial incentive. Washington quickly countered with its own offer and the Kyrgyz government changed its mind about kicking out the United States.

The question now is whether the new government in Kyrgyzstan will allow the U.S. base to remain or will decide that its continued presence is inappropriate.

If the Obama Administration determines that the Afghan war can wind down relatively quickly, the base might no longer be needed. America could then leave the question of its military presence in Kyrgyzstan entirely to the people of that country to determine, at no further cost to American taxpayers.



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