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Kyrgyzstan protests: What it means for US role in Afghanistan war?

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(Read caption) In this image taken from television, crowds gather on central square as smoke rises in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on Wednesday. Anti-government protests have swept across the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan and riot police have opened fire on thousands storming the main government building in the capital of Bishkek.

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Protesters angry at rising prices, a crumbling economy, and the authoritarian leadership of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev took to the streets of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan's capital, on Wednesday and tried to storm the presidential office and a number of other government installations.

The Kyrgyzstan protests also took place in other cities, and the Associated Press reports that at least 17 protesters have been killed and 180 wounded by government troops so far. Reuter's quoted a local official as saying the death toll could be as high as 50.

The instability highlights both Kyrgyzstan's vital role for the US war in Afghanistan and the compromises both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have made to deal with an increasingly unsavory regime.

Critics of Mr. Bakiyev inside and outside of the country charge that US reliance on the Manas Air Base means that Bakiyev feels little pressure to make democratic reforms or hold free elections.

A key air base

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