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Mali coup leaders announce new constitution

Mali's coup leaders have announced a new constitution and pledged to hold elections even as the West African nation's neighbours sent a high-level delegation to lobby for the restoration of democracy.

The charter, which did not specify when the elections would be held, came hours after the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, threatened sanctions and the use of military force to reverse last week's coup that ousted President Amadou Toumani Toure.

A statement read out on behalf of the coup leaders on state television said none of them would stand in the upcoming elections.

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 US-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. It also granted immunity to the leaders of  the coup, that left three people dead.

Support for coup leaders

The coup, triggered by army anger at the government's handling of a northern rebellion, has been condemned by the United Nations, Mali's neighbours and powers including France and the United States.

But several thousand Malians protested on Wednesday against international interference - in the largest show of backing for the new leadership, insisting the soldiers be left to run the state while tackling the rebellion.

"They 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.

The show of support came as the coup leaders faced growing international pressure and isolation.

ECOWAS has suspended Mali's membership and sent five presidents to Mali to try to "restore constitutional order".

The bloc is also putting a peacekeeping force on standby.

Alassane Ouattara, the president of Ivory Coast who holds the rotating chair of ECOWAS, told reporters after an emergency meeting in the capital of his nation - that itself was shot up and bloodied in a political crisis last year - that Mali's democracy cannot be abandoned.

"We cannot allow this country endowed with such precious democratic instruments, dating back at least two decades, to leave history by regressing. It's why Mali needs to immediately return its democratic institutions to normal,'' said Ouattara.

"This position is non-negotiable."

Crisis in north

In an interview, Sanogo defended the coup he led, saying the president he deposed had failed the country.

Sanogo also blamed the toppled government for not doing enough to deal with Tuareg fighters in the north.

"What drove us to end the rule of President Amadou Toure is the long-standing crisis in the north; the armed gangs are killing people and it became very difficult for the developmental programme to succeed, which left the army in a disastrous situation," Sanogo said.

"We’ve set up a technical team to look into possible solutions for the crisis in the north. War and military confrontation is not the preferred choice, and those in the north are our brothers and they can sit with us at the negotiating table," Sanogo said.

While Mali has been hailed as a successful democracy, simmering discontent over the government's handling of the north - also torn by drug and arms trafficking and kidnappings of Westerners - has seen the coup leaders win favour among some Malians.

"ATT sold the north, he is the rebel chief. [Mali] is a fake democracy," said one demonstrator, Kaba Diakhite, an engineer, referring to the former president.

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