Mauritania's president shot by army in 'error'


NOUAKCHOTT – Mauritania’s president was flown to France for medical treatment yesterday after the western ally against al-Qaeda was shot by soldiers in what he said was an accident.

The shooting late on Saturday 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 Mr 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,” Mr 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 he had been shot in the abdomen, though the government announced he had been “lightly wounded”. The French defence ministry confirmed Mr Abdel Aziz would receive treatment at the Percy-Clamart military hospital on the outskirts of Paris.

Mr Abdel Aziz was wounded when soldiers opened fire on his car about 40km from Nouakchott, the government said.

“It was a unit of the Mauritanian army, a mobile control unit. They weren’t aware of his passage,” foreign minister Hamadi Ould Hamadi said yesterday.

The streets of the capital were initially deserted as rumours spread of a military coup or of an assassination attempt against the president by Islamic militants.

But as reports of the incident spread, hundreds of residents converged on the military hospital where Mr Abdel Aziz was being treated to show their support for the president. – (Reuters)