Mauritanian president shot 'by troops' goes to Paris for treatment
President of African desert state slightly hurt when troops mistakenly fired on his convoy, official says, but source says he was targeted
Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz flew to Paris for medical treatment yesterday after soldiers shot at his convoy and wounded him in what the government said was an accident.
Abdel Aziz was wounded on Saturday after an army unit fired on his convoy as he returned to the northwest African country's capital, Nouakchott, from a weekend retreat.
The government played down the incident, saying the 55-year-old was only "slightly wounded" and that the shooting was an accident as the soldiers didn't realise that the convoy was his.
"This was an accidental shooting on the presidential convoy as it returned to Nouakchott. The army unit did not recognise the presidential convoy," communications Minister Hamdi Mahjoub said in remarks on national television. "The Mauritanian people can be reassured, the president is fine ... He was slightly wounded, and he got out of the vehicle unassisted upon arrival at the hospital, where he walked in without difficulty," he said.
A security source had earlier said that the president had been directly targeted and confirmed media reports in Nouakchott that said variously that Abdel Aziz had been hit in the arm and/or the abdomen.
Yesterday, the president flew to Paris for medical treatment after undergoing an operation at a military hospital to remove a "bullet from his body", a second security source said.
This source did not specify where the bullet had lodged but said none of his vital organs had been hit and "his life is not in danger".
Opposition lawmakers accuse the former general of despotism and mismanagement and of having failed to heed commitments made in the Dakar accords that led to his election in 2009, a year after he seized power in a coup d'état.
The opposition wants a transitional government to take over from Abdel Aziz and find a way out of the leadership crisis, dealing with issues such as unemployment, slavery and attacks on human rights.
Abdel Aziz has insisted he will not resign, despite a series of opposition protests.
"I have no intention of leaving power because I think that in a democracy, change must be done through the ballot box," Abdel Aziz said in August.
He has led a military campaign against Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
He has been the subject of several failed assassination attempts by AQIM, Al-Qaeda's franchise in North Africa, according to sources.
AQIM, which stems from a group started in the late 1990s by radical Algerian Islamists, formally subscribed to Al-Qaeda's ideology in 2007, but after a string of high-profile attacks the Algerian army managed to severely curtail its operations.