A delegation of West African leaders has arrived in Mali in a bid to push for a swift return to civilian rule following a military coup staged after weeks of anti-government protests.
Jubilant opposition supporters took to the streets of the capital, Bamako, on Tuesday to celebrate after military officers detained Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and other top government officials. But the coup was universally condemned abroad amid fears the unrest could plunge a country plagued by worsening insecurity into further instability.
ECOWAS, the West African regional bloc that led the chorus of international criticism, said on Thursday the high-level mission to Bamako will work “to ensure the immediate return of constitutional order” as it demanded Keita’s reinstatement following the resignation of the president and his government after the coup.
Led by former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, the envoys on Saturday are due to hold talks with the coup leaders, including Colonel Assimi Goita, who has declared himself the group’s leader. The regional delegation will then meet Keita, former Prime Minister Boubou Cisse and other detained officials, according to the ECOWAS programme.
“As ECOWAS, we appreciate what is happening in Mali and ECOWAS wants the best for the country,” Jonathan told reporters after arriving in Bamako. “We are here to discuss with all the key stakeholders and I believe at the end of the day we can get something that’s a success for the people and is good for ECOWAS and good for our community.”
Following the coup, ECOWAS swiftly shut borders and ended financial flows this week – a move diplomats said was as much about warning opponents at home as stabilising Mali.
“They cannot tolerate this taking place. They are taking it very personally. It is on their doorstep and they think they are next,” one regional diplomat told Reuters news agency.
The regional bloc has also said it is mobilising a regional military force, an indication that it is preparing for a military intervention in case its negotiations with the coup leaders fail.
Adding to the international pressure, the United States on Friday suspended military aid to Mali, with no further training or support of the Mali armed forces.
But on Friday, Bamako’s central square exploded in celebration when thousands of people attended a rally that was originally organised as an anti-Keita protest by a protest movement that has led the mass rallies against him, but was recast to “celebrate the victory of the Malian people” in the wake of the coup.
“I am overjoyed! We won,” said Mariam Cisse, 38, surrounded by people draped in the national flag and blasting on vuvuzela horns.
Speaking at the rally, Ismael Wague, spokesman for the group of coup leaders which calls itself the National Committee for the Salvation of the People, paid tribute to the public.
“We merely completed the work that you began and we recognise ourselves in your fight,” he said.
Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris, speaking from Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, said “the military authorities in Bamako can easily count on the support of these young men and women in Mali who have been protesting over the past few weeks”.