Mauritanian mystery deepens as speculation grows about coup cover-up
The Mauritanian government stands accused of a cover-up as further claims emerge of events surrounding the shooting of the president, with growing allegations of an attempted coup.
Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz was rushed to hospital last weekend after having been shot in the stomach by military guards, apparently by accident, 25 miles from the capital, Nouakchott, following a trip into the desert.
A source told the Guardian that Basep, the controversial and powerful presidential guard, also ferried a number of unidentified injured people and dead bodies to the same military hospital.
The source, who asked not to be identified, said explanations for the casualties do not tally with the government account. "The number of dead and injured cannot be explained," the source said.
The claims could further fuel speculation that the shooting was a failed coup attempt. Abdel Aziz grabbed power in a coup in 2008 but his iron grip has become increasingly unpopular.
"We don't believe the official version at all, this was an unsuccessful attempt at a coup d'etat by dissatisfied factions within the army," said Alassane Dia, from protest group Ne Touche Pas à ma Nationalité ("hands off my nationality").
"The situation in is very complicated. There is huge dissatisfaction with the regime – it promotes racism and slavery, there is brutal repression of dissidents, the economy is in a dire state, politics is completely closed, and the security situation is very unstable."
The shooting follows months of turbulence for Mauritania, an Islamic country which borders northern , where al-Qaida-linked groups control vast swaths of territory.
Around 100,000 refugees from Mali have fled into Mauritania, which has a population of 3.5 million, just as the country struggles with a food crisis engulfing the region.
Some business analysts also believe the shootings were evidence of an attempted coup, warning companies to prepare for further political unrest.
"We assess that given growing opposition to Abdel Aziz and Mauritania's long history of military coups, the shooting was more likely to have been a botched attempt to depose Aziz," wrote (pdf) to firms involved in Mauritania's £230m ($375m) a year mining sector.
Opposition to Abdel Aziz – including from members of his previously loyal tribe – and from black Mauritanians who accuse the government of institutional racism and slavery, has been growing in recent months, with a wave of street protests and increasingly vocal opposition.
Mauritania's military is under pressure following the political implosion in neighbouring Mail and attacks on Mauritanian soil by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, which has infiltrated the the porous desert borders.
Power in Mauritania under Abdel Aziz, a career military man, lies largely with the armed forces, with reports that the state is being run on an interim basis by Army Chief of Staff General Mohamed Ould Ghazouani while the president recovers in a French hospital.
"This is just further evidence that in reality the regime is a military regime hiding behind a civilian regime," added Alassane Dia. "There are elements in the army that are marginalised and that want to return the country to some kind of normality; because there is nothing normal about the country at the moment."
Abdel Aziz is recovering at the Percy-Clamart military hospital in Paris, where he has appeared in photographs on a government website .
Bloggers claim the photos of the president in apparently rude health appear heavily doctored, .