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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S.-Led Troops Asked to Set a Date

ReutersIran's Mohammad Reza, Karimov, Putin, Nazarbayev and Hu on Tuesday
ASTANA, Kazakhstan -- Russia, China and the Central Asian states asked U.S.-led troops on Tuesday to fix a date for their departure from military bases in Central Asia that were set up to support operations in Afghanistan in 2001.

The United States operates military airbases in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan -- two of the five former Soviet Central Asian republics that Russia still views as its backyard and where China, seeking oil and gas, is an increasingly vocal player.

The call was made at a meeting in Kazakhstan of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, or SCO, which groups the five countries with Russia and China, and against the backdrop of veiled criticism of Western influence in the region.

"Member states of the SCO believe that participants in the anti-terrorist coalition should define a deadline for the temporary use of infrastructure and their military presence on SCO member state territory," the SCO said in a joint declaration.

Sergei Prikhodko, an aide to President Vladimir Putin, told reporters that the call was being made since active operations in Afghanistan were coming to an end.

"No one is telling them it should be tomorrow, in a month, in five months or in a year and a half, but it's just straightforward that SCO members know by when the anti-terrorist coalition will leave," he said.

Putin and Chinese leader Hu Jintao joined other regional leaders in making the call just a day before they were both due to meet U.S. President George W. Bush in Scotland at a Group of Eight summit.

Bush has shown no sign of wanting to give up the bases.

The U.S. military has already had to reorganize operations in Uzbekistan, which introduced limitations on flights to the U.S. Karshi-Khanabad airbase following Western criticism of a bloody government suppression of a rebellion in the eastern town of Andijan.

According to the U.S military, Uzbekistan hosts at least 800 U.S. troops, while there are 1,200 U.S.-led troops in Kyrgyzstan. About 200 French airmen are in Tajikistan.

Speeches by Hu and Uzbek President Islam Karimov at the summit included veiled criticism of Western influence in Central Asia.

Karimov said outside forces were seeking to stir up trouble. "[They] aim to create a situation of so-called manageable instability and ... foist on us their own model of development," he said.

Hu, who cordially received Karimov on a state visit following the Andijan violence, said the Central Asian states should choose their own path.

"The people of Central Asia are the only masters of their destiny," he said, speaking through a Russian interpreter. "They are wise and free enough to put their own houses in order."

The comments follow hawkish remarks by Russian officials criticizing attempts by unspecified foreign forces to destabilize the region, which has been unsettled by the violence in Andijan.

Uzbek authorities say 176 people died, but rights activists say as many as 750 may have been killed.

Protests and a coup in Kyrgyzstan this year and peaceful democratic revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia before that have also unnerved Central Asia's long-serving rulers, none of whom has won an election judged free and fair by Western monitors.

The SCO on Tuesday added Iran, India and Pakistan as observer nations, The Associated Press reported. The additions bolster the group's clout.

The Astana meeting came a day after Putin on Monday hailed the "unshakeable" partnership between Russia and the United States in a telegram to his U.S counterpart, George W. Bush, congratulating him on Independence Day, the AP reported.

Ties between the two former Cold War foes are based on "mutual trust and partnership," he said.