Mauritania's Aziz to return home Saturday post shooting

PARIS Tue Nov 20, 2012 1:18pm EST

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PARIS (Reuters) - Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz will return home on Saturday after recovering in Paris from what he says was an accidental shooting last month.

Aziz, an ally of the West in its fight against al Qaeda in Africa, was flown to France on October 14 after a military patrol fired on his convoy by accidental, according to the official version of events.

Rumors have abounded since then, with many in the coup-prone country questioning what happened.

Government spokesman Rassoul Ould Khal said Aziz was due to return on Saturday morning.

In Paris, Aziz, slightly out of breath and speaking softly, said: "I'm doing very well. I'm beginning to recover ... but I am trying to move things along and it will be fine."

He told France 24 television that the officer responsible for his shooting had made a mistake by setting up a checkpoint and had been released from custody a day after the incident.

Aziz's delay in returning to Mauritania after being discharged from hospital last month has also raised questions about who is running the country in his absence.

"There has been no institutional void," Aziz said. "We continued to communicate throughout (the incident) on everything that had happened ... It is always the desire of some individuals to invent stories."

Although Mauritania has been stable politically since Aziz seized power in 2008, it lies on the fringes of the Sahara where Islamist gunmen hold increasing sway. Al Qaeda-linked militants have seized the north of its neighbor Mali.

After meeting French President Francois Hollande in Paris, Aziz said Mauritania would not participate directly in a plan to send a mainly West African force of some 4,000 soldiers to Mali to help take back the rebel region.

However, Mauritania could assist the efforts indirectly.

"It's impossible to not have a role to play... in efforts that would help stability in this region," Aziz said.

Mauritania launched several attacks on Islamist bases across the border in Mali in 2010 and 2011, provoking threats of revenge from al Qaeda-linked fighters.

Those Islamist groups now occupy the northern two-thirds of Mali after hijacking a Tuareg rebellion earlier this year in the wake of a military coup in Mali's capital Bamako.

Split between black and Arab Africa, Mauritania is bigger than Turkey but has only 3.5 million people.

(Writing by Mark John; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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