NOAKCHOTT Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz returned home on Saturday after more than a month of medical convalescence in France, calming fears concerning the state of his health and uncertainty over who was managing the country in his absence.
Abdel Aziz, an ally of the West in its fight against al Qaeda in Africa, flew to Paris on October 14 after soldiers opened fire on his unescorted car as he returned to the capital Noakchott from his country residence.
The government and Abdel Aziz himself have said the shooting was accidental.
However, many in the coup-prone country had questioned the official version of the shooting. And his delay in returning home after being discharged from hospital last month had also raised questions about who was really in charge.
Thousands of his supporters, some arriving on camels, awaited his arrival at the airport carrying images of the president and banners welcoming him home.
"I was a bit worried, it's true. But now we are reassured that this is a man determined to finish the mission that God has given him. And we wish him good luck," said Mariet Oumar Ndiaye, one of his supporters.
Abdel Aziz greeted government ministers and top military officials on the airport's tarmac but made no statement. He traveled into Nouakchott in the back of a roofless car, shaking hands and waving at the crowds that lined the road.
"It was important to come and see the president, because we heard lots of rumors," said Alassane, a student who traveled to the airport for Abdel Aziz's arrival.
"The opposition said he was incapable of running the country, that he's paralysed. That's why we came here, to make sure," he said.
Straddling black and Arab Africa on the continent's west coast, Mauritania, a country of 3.2 million people, has been hit by two coups since 2005. It is an iron ore, copper and gold producer with a budding off-shore oil and gas sector.
(Reporting by Laurent Prieur; writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Myra MacDonald)