BAMAKO – Thousands of demonstrators chanted pro-junta slogans in Mali’s capital on Wednesday, protesting against foreign powers’ threats to use sanctions to force the leaders of last week’s coup to step down.
The coup, seen as a setback to fragile democratic gains in Africa, was triggered by army anger at President Amadou Toumani Toure’s handling of a northern Tuareg rebellion that in recent weeks has gained ground and inflicted losses on the army.
Regional neighbours said they were prepared to use sanctions and possible military force to dislodge Mali’s new army leaders, urging them to hand back power to civilians, while former colonial power France has suspended aid.
“I want the international community to shut up. This is our revolution,” said youth leader Oumar Diara at the rally – the largest in Malian capital Bamako since Toure was ousted.
“We, the youth, can live without the international community. We have been living with our eyes closed but now we are waking up,” he said.
Protesters chanted “Victory” and “Down with Sarkozy, down with the Westerners” while a senior member of the junta, Oumar Mariko, called those pressing for sanctions on Mali “traitors”. Banners read “Long live the army!” and “Dignity refound!”.
Soldiers say they do not have the weapons or resources to halt Tuareg-led northern rebels.
“They (the coup leaders) should stay to resolve the problems in the north, corruption and education. That is more important than elections,” said one protester, Khalifa Sogo, of the dissatisfaction felt by many Malians with Toure’s rule.
Earlier, Mali’s coup leaders announced a new constitution including a pledge to allow elections in which they would be barred from standing. The charter did not specify when the elections would be held.
“Anyone who was a member of the CNRDRE or the government cannot be a candidate in the elections,” the new constitution, read out on state television, said of the junta – the National Committee for the Return of Democracy and the Restoration of the State (CNRDRE).
It added that civilians would be offered 15 out of 41 posts in a new transitional authority intended to prepare the path for elections. Captain Amadou Sanogo, a U.S-trained soldier who led the coup, will appoint an interim prime minister and government.
The new constitution guarantees the right to demonstrate or go on strike and grants immunity from prosecution for leaders of a coup in which rights groups say three people have been killed.
On Tuesday leaders of the regional ECOWAS bloc said they would send a delegation of six heads of state to confront the coup leaders this week and call for a return to constitutional order. They are expected in Bamako on Friday.
As well as Ivorian President and ECOWAS leader Alassane Ouattara, the delegation includes Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan, Burkina Faso’s Blaise Compaore, Liberia’s Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Niger’s Mahamadou Issoufou and Benin’s Yayi Boni.
The whereabouts of Toure remain unknown but Ouattara said he had spoken to him by phone on Tuesday and that he was safe. Toure is believed to be with a pocket of loyalist soldiers somewhere in Mali.
In a final communique, ECOWAS leaders on Tuesday “instructed the ECOWAS Commission to put the ECOWAS Standby Force in a state of readiness for all eventualities”.
However the statement did not any include specifics of possible army action. ECOWAS, which has no standing army of its own, would have to go through potentially lengthy processes to raise sufficient troops from member states.