(SRI) - Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry on Wednesday refused to comment on reports that President Nursultan Nazarbayev underwent a prostate surgery at a German hospital and said he would be back in Astana on Thursday.
On Tuesday, German tabloid Bild reported that Nazarbayev admitted himself to a hospital in Hamburg, citing an anonymous source. On Wednesday, the paper specified that Nazarbayev successfully underwent a prostate surgery and was recovering in one of Hamburg's luxury hotels.
"The Kazakh president apparently reacted well to the surgery," Bild said, without identifying its source. "Since the operation, he has been recuperating at a luxury hotel in the city centre."
Neither Kazakhstan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs nor the Presidential Administration acknowledged the reports, maintaining that the President was on a short holiday.
Kazakhstan news agency KazTAG meanwhile reported that Nazarbayev underwent a "prophylactic medical examination in a clinic abroad."
The absence of clear information and worry about the health of the 71-year old leader briefly rattled the markets on Tuesday, causing an uptick in demand for credit default swaps among investors exposed to Kazakhstan.
While the Foreign Ministry's assurances that Nazarbayev would return to Astana calmed the storm of speculation, the event highlighted concerns about potential political instability in Kazakhstan.
Nazarbayev, who has ruled Kazakhstan since the country's independence in 1992, has shown no signs of abdicating from power or preparing the ground for a potential successor. With no clear frontrunner visible, analysts and investors view the lack of a succession plan as the single biggest threat to political stability in Kazakhstan.
Nazarbayev appears to be firmly in grip of power in Kazakhstan, but local observers worry that any sign of weakness could spark a behind-the-scenes power struggle among competing groups.
"The clandestine preparations for the post-Nazarbayev period will accelerate among those who have the desire and ambition to battle for power in Kazakhstan," Reuters quoted Kazakh political scientist and commentator Dosym Satpayev as saying.
Others downplayed fears of instability during a succession, due to the country's strategic position as an important energy supplier and regional security player.
"I have some confidence that we would see a pretty smooth transition of power to someone in the inner circle," Bloomberg quoted a research note from Timothy Ash, head of emerging-markets research at Royal Bank of Scotland Group in London.