BAMAKO: Several thousand people took to the streets of Mali's capital Wednesday in support of last week's military takeover and a new constitution hastily written by the coup leaders.
A bloc of West African nations suspended Mali's membership and is sending five presidents to Mali to try to ''restore constitutional order'' a week after soldiers ousted the democratically elected leader of this vast and impoverished country.
The Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, is also putting a peacekeeping force on standby but the junta leaders are working hard to give the semblance of normalcy here, and thousands are hoping the junta will stay.
''It's the first time I'm really proud of Mali and of Africa,'' said Niamoye Toure, a young doctor. ''Honestly I'd given up on Mali. It's only now with the military that I've regained some hope.''
Toure said the marchers wanted ECOWAS to recognize the new leadership.
''Capt. Sanogo isn't here to hold onto power, but just to bring some order to the country,'' she said, referring to coup leader Capt. Amadou Sanogo.
The new constitution was read on state TV late Tuesday night. The 69-article constitution includes many of the guarantees of the former law, including the guarantees of free speech, liberty of movement and freedom of thought.
New measures include the creation of a military-led council headed by Sanogo. It says that the new head of state is simultaneously the head of the army, the head of the government and the head of the judiciary.
The middle and final sections set out the role of the military committee now controlling the country, which calls itself the National Committee for the Reestablishment of Democracy and the Restoration of the State.
The new constitution says that the committee will be made up of 26 soldiers or police and 15 civilians. Those asked to serve on the committee will receive immunity and cannot be tried at a later time.
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. The delegation of five African presidents was to head to Mali this week.
''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 nonnegotiable.''
There is no immediate plan to deploy the peacekeepers, said Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, the president of the ECOWAS commission. The move suggests the bloc may consider force if the mutinous soldiers do not stand down.
Already, the United States, the European Union and France have cut off all but essential aid, a loss of tens of millions of dollars. Additional sanctions from the region would be a further blow to the junta, which seized control of the nation of 15 million in the wake of a mutiny at a military camp in the capital last Wednesday.
In the chaos that ensued, soldiers stormed the presidential palace. The whereabouts of President Amadou Toumani Toure, who was due to step down after elections next month, are unknown but he is said to be unharmed.