The office of Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambayev revealed overnight that he had been laid low by heart troubles as he was flying to New York, but only images captured by Turkish media exposed the apparent seriousness of the situation.
Atambayev’s plane was forced to make an unscheduled landing late on September 19 as the president was making his way to the 71st session of the UN General Assembly. His office now says that he may not return to work before the start of October.
According to a report in Turkish newspaper Sozcu, Atambayev was initially rushed an airport hotel in an ambulance. Later, he was flown out of Istanbul to a hospital on the Aegean Sea.
Atambayev now reportedly needs to undergo urgent medical treatment, which will require him being out of action for several days.
The delegation to the General Assembly is to headed up instead by Foreign Minister Yerlan Abdyldayev.
Sudden leadership crises have long been anticipated in Uzbekistan, whose long-time president has just died, or in Kazakhstan, but Atambayev is a relative youngster in regional leader terms, having only just turned 60 on September 17. Some online commentators have linked his sudden bout of ill-health with a trying succession of public events, including the Nomad Games, a Commonwealth of Independent States heads of state summit and, last but not least, his birthday celebrations.
Atambayev’s presumed temporary disappearance from scene comes as Kyrgyzstan is gripped in the throes of a self-induced political crisis. In the past few days, the president has ordered prosecutors to investigate members of the 2010 interim cabinet that he led over suspicions that they helped aid the flight of an ethnic Uzbek businessmen the authorities accuse of inciting bloody ethnic unrest six years ago.
Atambayev head been due to meet with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and, more contentiously, US philanthropist George Soros. Officials in Bishkek are routinely given to accusing foundations funded by Soros of sowing trouble in Kyrgyzstan, so the meeting has been criticized by some as a display of hypocrisy by the Kyrgyz leader.
The largely transparent fashion in which Atambayev's bad health has been reported is a stark contrast to the way in similar developments are covered elsewhere in the region, or for that matter in the United States, as the saga surrounding presidential hopeful Hilary Clinton's pneumonia diagnosis demonstrated.