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Mauritania's president heads to France for treatment after shooting

President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz was elected in 2009, but the CIA refers to his administration as a military junta.

Story highlights

  • France's defense ministry says Mauritania's president will be treated there
  • The president says he is fine, that shooting was an "accident"
  • Witnesses think the incident was an assassination attempt, local media say
  • Troops mistakenly open fire on Mauritania's presidential convoy, state news reports

Mauritania's president was admitted to a French military hospital for treatment Sunday, hours after he took to his country's airwaves to say troops had shot him by accident.

Doctors will treat President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz at a military hospital outside Paris, France's Defense Ministry said.

"I want to reassure all citizens of my well-being after the accident committed by an army unit on an unpaved road around Touela. ... Everything is fine," Aziz said in an interview broadcast on official Mauritanian television earlier Sunday.

Troops shot the president late Saturday in what the government is calling a case of "friendly fire" -- though others believe it may have been something more sinister. Aziz's convoy mistakenly came under fire as it was heading back toward the capital of Nouakchott, the official AMI news agency reported. The gunshots came from a military unit stationed alongside the road in the west African country.

French officials did not provide details about the president's treatment or prognosis.

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Aziz said earlier Sunday that he had a successful operation to treat minor injuries.

But witnesses said they believe the incident was an assassination attempt, because unknown armed men shot their guns at the president and ran away, according to the independent Mauritania News agency. The witnesses said the armed men "directly" targeted the president as he was returning from his farm in Inchiri province, near the capital, Mauritania News reported.

Mauritania has a history of political instability and faces threats from al Qaeda militants.

A former general, Aziz came to power in a bloodless 2008 military coup -- one of many such coups the country of about 3.4 million people has had since it gained independence from France in 1960. He ousted Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, who had been the nation's first democratically elected leader, according to the U.S. State Department.

Aziz was elected president in 2009. Still, the CIA describes the country's leadership as a "military junta."

Security in Mauritania has been ratcheted up in recent weeks amid concerns about "armed terrorist groups" in nearby northern Mali, according to Magharebia, a website sponsored by the U.S. Africa Command -- a part of the U.S. military focused on the continent.

The measures include a bolstered security presence on main streets, near embassies and by government buildings in Nouakchott, as well as stepped-up patrols, Magharebia said.

No official reason has been given for the enhanced security, according to the report. But the publication, quoting terrorism experts and local news reports, said it may be related to threats posed by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

In May, the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning for Mauritania because of AQIM activities.

"As a result of perceived Western involvement in counterterrorism efforts, AQIM has declared its intention to attack Western targets," the warning said.

The United States engages with Mauritania on a range of issues, including counterterrorism, food security, trade promotion and efforts to strengthen human rights, the State Department said.

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