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Mauritania president in Paris hospital after 'accidental' shooting

  • Mauritania's President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz takes part in the closing news conference after a summit of Mediterranean neighbours at Verdala Palace outside Valletta, in this October 6, 2012 file photo. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi/Files

PARIS: Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz was admitted to a French military hospital on Sunday after being shot and wounded when soldiers "accidentally" fired on his convoy near the capital Nouakchott.

The 55-year-old president was taken to Percy hospital in the suburbs of Paris for treatment after undergoing an operation at home to remove a bullet following Saturday's shooting.

A pale-looking Ould Abdel Aziz, who has in the past been targeted by Al-Qaeda-linked Islamists in his country, earlier appeared on television from his hospital bed in Nouakchott, telling Mauritanians the surgery had been a "success".

"I want to reassure them about my health after this incident, which was committed in error by a military unit," he said.

"Thanks be to God, there is no problem," added the president, who was joined at his bedside by his Prime Minister Moulaye Ould Mohamed Laghdhaf and top civilian and military figures.

Late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was also treated at the Percy hospital where he died at the age of 75 in November 2011. Investigations have now been launched into allegations that Arafat was poisoned.

Mauritanian Foreign Minister Hamadi Ould Hamadi said Saturday's shooting had no political impact in the impoverished northwest African nation.

The president "is exercising the full range of his powers. He is absent, that happens sometimes: he travels to summits, he goes to conferences. The state is functioning," Ould Hamadi told reporters on the sidelines of the Francophone summit in Kinshasa,

"There is no particular problem which requires any particular arrangements," he said, describing the situation in Mauritania as "calm."  

A security source had earlier told AFP that the president, a former general who has been in power since leading an August 2008 military coup, had been directly targeted in Saturday's incident.

But none of the strongman's vital organs had been hit and "his life is not in danger".

Communications Minister Hamdi Mahjoub played down the shooting, saying Ould Abdel Aziz was only "slightly wounded" and that the soldiers had not realised it was the presidential convoy.

"This was an accidental shooting on the presidential convoy as it returned to Nouakchott. The army unit did not recognise the presidential convoy," Mahjoub said on national television.

Ould Hamadi said the unit was a mobile army checkpoint that had not been informed of the convoy's passage.

A security source had earlier said the president was hit in the arm by a bullet fired by an unknown gunman as he was driving from his weekend retreat in Tweila, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the Atlantic coast capital.

The gunman in a car "directly targeted" the head of state, he added, without giving any indications as to the identity of the attacker or the motive.

In Mauritania, opposition lawmakers accuse Ould Abdel Aziz of despotism and mismanagement in the largely desert nation.

They also charge that he has 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'etat.

The opposition wants a transition government to take over from Ould Abdel Aziz and find a way out of the crisis, dealing with issues such as unemployment, slavery and attacks on human rights.

Ould Abdel Aziz, who headed the presidential guard before the coup, has insisted he will not resign, despite a series of opposition protests.

He has led a military campaign against Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Al-Qaeda's franchise in north Africa, and sources say he has been the subject of several failed assassination attempts by the group.

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.

It has since been boosted by the turmoil in neighbouring Mali that followed a coup there in March, with hardline Islamists occupying the country's vast northern region.

Abdel Aziz's mandate as leader of the former French colony expires in 2014.

 
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