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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Uzbekistan Closes Airspace to NATO

BRUSSELS -- Uzbekistan has told NATO allies they can no longer use its territory or airspace in support of the alliance peacekeeping mission in neighboring Afghanistan, NATO officials said Wednesday.

The decision is likely to affect Germany in particular because it uses a base in southern Uzbekistan to provide backup for its troops across the border.

However, NATO said alternatives would be found if needed and the mission would not be hurt.

"There will be no diminishment of our ability to support our operation in Afghanistan," NATO spokesman James Appathurai said.

NATO diplomats said the order from the Uzbek authorities told the allies they must withdraw troops and stop overflights by Jan. 1.

The order comes amid worsening relations between the country and Western nations that have been critical of a May crackdown on demonstrators in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijan.

The European Union last week banned 12 Uzbek officials from entering the bloc for their involvement in quelling the uprising, in which hundreds were killed. Last month, the 25-nation bloc imposed an arms embargo on the country and suspended a cooperation pact.

NATO officials said several European allies -- including Germany and Spain -- had been told to leave by the Uzbek government, although Appathurai said alliance headquarters had received no such message directly.

Germany, which has 2,250 troops in Afghanistan, uses a base at Termez, in Uzbekistan, for backup and running supplies to its forces, who make up one of the largest contingents in the about 10,000-strong NATO force. Germany has about 300 troops stationed in Termez.

Uzbekistan earlier ordered out the U.S. military. On Monday, the Americans flew their last plane out from an air base in Uzbekistan that had been an important hub for operations in Afghanistan.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov ordered the U.S. troops to leave the Karshi-Khanabad air base within six months, after Washington condemned the Andijan crackdown.

 Russia could take over the air base vacated this week by U.S. troops, Interfax reported Wednesday, citing a Russian defense official.

"We're studying how feasible it would be to base a Russian Air Force group in Uzbekistan," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "The Americans have left good infrastructure behind."

 An Uzbek journalist who covered the violence in Andijan was one of four winners of the International Press Freedom Awards for 2005. The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based media advocacy group, presented the award to Galima Bukharbayeva, former Uzbekistan correspondent for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, at a ceremony in New York late Tuesday.