NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania – Lawmakers in Mauritania's parliament are demanding answers regarding the health of the country's leader, one month after President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz was evacuated to France for medical treatment after accidentally being shot by his own guards.
Throughout his time away from the country, officials have downplayed what now appears to have been a much more serious injury than previously thought. The 55-year-old Aziz, a hardened military leader who came to power in a 2008 coup, was shot on Oct. 13 after failing to stop at a checkpoint outside the capital. He was airlifted to France the next day, but before going he made sure to hold a press conference from his hospital bed in order to show the country that he was conscious and able to function.
Since then, family members and ruling party officials have periodically released statements saying that Aziz is improving, and plans to return soon. But with each passing week, speculation is mounting in this desert nation which has suffered six military coups since the 1970s, including two in the past decade.
On Monday during the opening of parliament, opposition lawmakers deposed a letter officially summoning Prime Minister Moulaye Ould Mohamed Laghdaf to answer questions about the Oct. 13 shooting and the state of the president's health.
"We want to know who is governing Mauritania in this period when President Aziz is absent," said the permanent secretary of a coalition of opposition parties, Salek Ould Sidi Mahmoud.
The coalition believes that Aziz is no longer able to govern due to his prolonged absence and his ongoing convalescence, said Mahmoud.
In an effort to dispel rumors, state television gave a detailed account on the evening news of the conversation Aziz had earlier this week from France with Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, regarding the military intervention in Mali, as well as a talk he had with Romano Prodi, the United Nations envoy to the Sahel.
Aziz was shot on Oct. 13 while driving his own car outside the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott. Officials say Aziz surprised the guards at a temporary checkpoint who didn't recognize the president's private car. When he failed to stop, they fired, hitting him in the abdomen. He was airlifted on Oct. 14 to Paris where he was treated at a military hospital.
He was recently released from the hospital and is now in a private residence, convalescing and observing a special diet, say his aides.
"The president is closely following the political situation and is giving his instructions and his directives to the appropriate civil and military authorities in the country," said Mohamed Yahya Ould Horma, the vice president of the Union for the Republic, the ruling party. "He will return soon to Nouakchott and we are preparing to celebrate his return."