Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, in power for almost three decades, has handed power temporarily to his prime minister while he undergoes gallbladder surgery in Germany, state television said on Saturday.
It said the surgery would take place later on Saturday. Mubarak, 81, who gave a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday, delegated power to the prime minister in 2004 while he had back surgery in Germany.
The Egyptian leader, who showed no signs of frailty at Thursday's news conference, has been in power since 1981 and has not designated a successor, prompting speculation about who might take over.
Such talk tends to become more acute whenever issues of his wellbeing arise although he has generally enjoyed good health.
Mubarak has not said whether he will seek a sixth six-year term in the next presidential election in 2011 but many Egyptians believe he will try to hand power to his politician son Gamal, 46, if he chooses not to stand again.
"Mubarak is undergoing surgery on his gallbladder because he has been suffering severe inflammation of his gallbladder," television reported. State media said earlier he would undergo gallbladder tests while in Germany.
"He has issued a presidential decree delegating Ahmed Nazif presidential powers until he returns," it said.
The operation would take place in Heidelberg, where he had the tests. It said his wife and two sons including Gamal, as well as Health Minister Hatem el-Gabali, were with him, state television reported.
Mubarak underwent surgery for a slipped disc at a Munich hospital in 2004, an event that sparked rumours about the succession and sent jitters through Egypt's financial markets.
In 2003, he collapsed briefly during a speech to parliament. Officials said that was caused by a combination of cold medication and fasting during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.