Mauritanian leader back home after treatment

His absence has been marked by weeks of opposition protests

15:16 November 25, 2012

Nouakchott: Thousands of supporters welcomed Mauritania’s President Mohammad Ould Abdul Aziz back from France, where he spent more than a month recovering after being shot by a soldier in what officials insist was an accident.

Crowds of well-wishers lined up along the three kilometres of road between Nouakchott airport and the presidential palace to show their support.

Abdul Aziz flew home on a private jet after 40 days away.

His absence had been marked by weeks of opposition protests, who have questioned the president’s ability to lead the country after the attack and decried what they described as the power vaccuum it had created.

Abdul Aziz however was warmly welcomed by his cheering supporters, who waved flags and dressed in the national colours of green and yellow, bearing giant posters of the president.

“Your health is the guarantee of our progress,” they chanted. “Your absence saddened us, your return relieves us,” they said.

It was on October 13 that the 55-year-old Mauritanian leader was shot by a soldier in what government has described as an accident.

The gunman has said he opened fire on the president’s unmarked vehicle when it failed to heed his request stop at his mobile army checkpoint.

Abdul Aziz was admitted to a military hospital near Paris a day after the shooting and was released 10 days later.

The president, who waved to supporters as he left the airport, did not make any statement upon his return.

On Saturday however, in an interview with French International Radio (RFI) and Le Monde newspaper, he said “the accident will only increase my determination to fight the scourges undermining my country”.

While it was initially reported that he had been shot in the arm, Abdul Aziz told the French media that he had taken a bullet to the stomach.

Vital organs had not been hit, but his intestines were hit and had required post-operative care.

“Luckily I was in good shape which helped a lot with my rapid recovery,” he said.

Abdul Aziz said it was up to his doctors to decide upon his future treatment and possible follow-up appointments.

He insisted that his regime would “hold out a hand” to the opposition, which even before he was shot, as far back as May, had been staging regular protests calling for him to step down.