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Six weeks after being shot, Mauritania's president returns home

By the CNN Wire Staff
November 25, 2012 -- Updated 0108 GMT (0908 HKT)
Mauritania's President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz greets the crowd at the airport as he returns home.
Mauritania's President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz greets the crowd at the airport as he returns home.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz was shot October 14, reportedly by his own troops
  • While witnesses said it seemed an assassination try, he insisted it was an "accident"
  • He returns to Nouakchott from France, where he'd been recovering from injuries
  • Throngs of supporters greet him, as he rolls through city streets in a convertible

(CNN) -- More than six weeks after being shot, reportedly by his own troops, President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz returned home Saturday evening from France, where he'd been receiving medical treatment.

After arriving at Nouakchott Airport in the West African nation's capital, Aziz met with government officials and legislative leaders, according to the state-run AMI news agency.

He later traveled through the city streets in an open-air convertible, waving as the car rolled through a throng of supporters, some of whom held up pictures and cheered his return by dancing and shouting "Aziz!"

The president discussed his health in an interview with Radio France International, as reported Saturday AMI, saying he is "generally OK and ... thankfully regaining my health."

Aziz said bullets hit his intestines and possibly his colon, while his kidneys and liver were spared.

"There were no complications or problems, but doctors (exercised) caution," he said, explaining why it took him so long to come back to Mauritania. "I ... lost a significant amount of blood due to injury, but most of the organs did not suffer."

It was on October 14, that the president's convoy came under fire as it headed back toward Nouakchott.

Witnesses told the independent Mauritania News agency they thought this shooting was an assassination attempt, because unknown men shot at the president and ran away.

But state news reported that members of a military unit stationed alongside the road shot at the president. And Aziz himself refuted the possibility he had been targeted in a coup d'etat, saying on state television the next day that the shooting was not intentional and that he'd be OK.

"I want to reassure all citizens of my well-being after the accident committed by an army unit on an unpaved road," Aziz said. "Everything is fine."

The president added he'd had a successful operation to treat what he described as minor injuries, but then left Mauritania for France for continued medical treatment.

In his recent interview with Radio France International, he said he "always worked" even during his recovery in France, adding that he'd kept close contact with Mauritania's prime minister, Cabinet ministers and leading politicians.

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."

Beyond its historic political instability, Mauritania faces threats posed by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Mauritania: Slavery's last stronghold

Security was ratcheted up earlier this year amid concerns of "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.

CNN's Hamdi Alkhshali and Greg Botelho contributed to this report.

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