Monday, October 15, 2012

Africa: Mauritania's president was flown to France for medical treatment after the Western ally against al Qaeda was shot by his own soldiers in what he said was an accident

The shooting set the coup-prone northwest African country on edge and President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz appealed to Mauritanians to keep calm in a televised message from his hospital bed. Although Mauritania has been stable politically since Abdel Aziz seized power in 2008, it lies on the fringes of the Sahara Desert where Islamist gunmen hold increasing sway. "I want to reassure everyone about my state of health after this incident committed by error," Abdel Aziz said from his bed. "Thanks to God, I am doing well." He was covered in a sheet up to his neck and the extent of his wounds was not clear. Medical sources said that he had been shot in the abdomen, though the government announced he had been "lightly wounded." The president was flown to former colonial power France after undergoing an initial operation in a military hospital in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott. Abdel Aziz was wounded when soldiers opened fire on his car about 25 miles from Nouakchott, the government said. He was driving through the town of Toueila, in an area where he owns a ranch. Officials did not say what had happened to the soldiers who had opened fire on the convoy. Abdel Aziz was elected in 2009 after seizing power a year earlier in a coup that cut short the rule of Mauritania's first democratically elected president. Split between black and Arab Africa, Mauritania is bigger than Turkey but has only 3.5 million people. The largely desert country produces oil from wells offshore. Its other main export industries are mining and fishing.

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