NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania – The family of Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz said Thursday that he is recuperating well in France from a gunshot wound and should return home soon, even as rumors about his ill-health swirled in a western Africa nation that has suffered repeated coups.
The president's son, Ahmedou Aziz, told The Associated Press by telephone from Paris that his father is doing very well at a military hospital in the French capital, after being accidentally shot by Mauritanian army troops on Oct. 13.
Aziz, who seized power from the democratically elected president in a 2008 coup, was driving in an unmarked car without an official escort just outside the capital. Guards at a checkpoint did not recognize the president's vehicle and opened fire when he did not slow down. Family members said Aziz was injured in the abdomen.
On Wednesday, the leader of the National Assembly, Messaoud Ould Boulkheir, who is one of the president's opponents, said he spoke on the phone with Aziz. "I was able to reach him and spoke to him for five to six minutes on the telephone," said Boulkheir. "It was indeed the voice of the president and his memory is intact, but his voice shows that he is not totally recovered."
The day after the shooting, Aziz called a news conference inside the Nouakchott hospital where he was being treated, and allowed reporters to film him, sitting up in his hospital bed. A sheet covered his torso, so reporters could not see the extent of the wound. He attempted to reassure the nation that his injuries were minor, but nearly three weeks later he has still not returned from France, where he was evacuated for treatment.
It has given rise to suspicions that Aziz was much more seriously hurt and is downplaying the severity of his wounds. Mauritania has had countless coups and there are worries that if he doesn't return promptly, it could destabilize the fragile nation.
Mauritania is considered a key player in the fight against al-Qaida's African branch, which has taken over a region the size of France in Mali, the nation bordering Mauritania.