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leader: U.S. can keep Kyrgyzstan base

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — Kyrgyzstan's interim leader told the Associated Press in an exclusive interview Tuesday that her government will extend for a year the lease of a U.S. air base key to the war in Afghanistan, and guarantee the deposed president's safety if he steps down and leaves the country.

The ousted ruler said he was willing to step down but he also wants security for his family and close circle as a condition of his resignation — a demand that could block a deal to transfer power and exacerbate the turmoil in the Central Asian nation.

Roza Otunbayeva, the interim leader, told the AP that the agreement allowing the U.S. to use the Manas air base will be prolonged after the current one-year deal expires in July.

"It will be automatically extended for the next year," she said.

The U.S. base, at the capital's international airport, provides refueling flights for warplanes over Afghanistan and serves as a major transit hub for troops.

In the interview, Otunbayeva said her government is offering security guarantees for deposed President Kurmanbek Bakiyev if he steps down and leaves the country, but she wouldn't offer such protection to his family members, whom the opposition has accused of corruption and other abuses.

"We will provide security guarantees, which he's entitled to under the constitution," she said.

Earlier Tuesday, a deputy head of the interim government, Azymbek Beknazarov, said that Bakiyev has been stripped of his presidential immunity and threatened to send special forces to arrest him if he didn't turn himself in.

But Otunbayeva refuted that statement in the interview, saying that her government was considering lifting Bakiyev's immunity but hasn't made the decision yet.

Bakiyev fled the capital, Bishkek, last Wednesday after a rally against corruption, rising utility bills and deteriorating human rights exploded into police gunfire and chaos that left at least 83 people dead and sparked protesters to storm the government headquarters.

He told reporters in his home village in the south that he would resign and relinquish his claim on power if the interim authorities guarantee "my own security and the security of members of my family and those close to me."

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