President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz has returned to Mauritania after being in France for five weeks recovering after being shot by a soldier in what officials claim was an accident.
On October 13, Ould Abdel Aziz left the capital city, Nouakchott, in a private, unmarked car for a drive in the desert.
Aziz later said that he had the habit of going out without his official convoy. He failed to stop at a checkpoint on the outskirts of the capital, and guards opened fire – hitting him in the stomach.
Before being airlifted to France the next day, the president invited reporters for a bedside interview in his hospital room to show the country that he was conscious and able to function.
His absence had been marked by weeks of opposition protests, who have questioned the president’s ability to lead the country after the attack and decried what they described as the power vaccuum it had created.
Ould Abdel Aziz made no statement upon his arrival at the Nouakchott airport on Saturday, but greeted the thousands of Mauritanians who lined the road from the airport to welcome him back.
The 55-year-old leader travelled along the streets in the back of a roofless car, shaking hands and waving at the crowd.
Supporters had brought out giant posters of the president, as well as banners welcoming him home.
His return puts an end to speculation over the state of his health, as well as over the future of the country – as analysts had warned that his extended departure could create the instability needed for another coup in the desert nation which has suffered six since the 1970s.
“At no moment did I fear a coup d’etat by the army… because [our army] has better things to do than lead coup d’etats,” Ould Abdel Aziz told the French radio station Radio France International on Saturday morning.
“I have total confidence in the Mauritanian military.”
Formerly a general in the army, Ould Abdel Aziz came to power himself in a 2008 coup, ousting the country’s first and only democratically elected leader.
His coup was widely denounced by the international community, but he has since become a key ally of the West in the fight al Qaeda in Africa.
Mauritania has led raids across the border into Mali to root out fighters from al-Qaeda’s North African branch.