The leaders of neighbouring countries were headed to Mali on Thursday to negotiate the departure of the junior officers that seized power last week in a coup overturning two decades of democracy in this desert nation.

The presidents of Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Benin and Niger were due to meet the army captain that led the coup following a mutiny at an army base. The regional powers have already said that Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo must immediately restore constitutional order.

Last week’s coup took the region and the world by surprise because Mali has been considered one of the few established democracies in the troubled western half of the African continent. Sanogo is now based at the Kati garrison, a military camp near the presidential palace.

It was at that garrison that a mutiny erupted on March 21, led by troops angry over the treatment of fellow soldiers killed in operations in the country’s north, where they were sent to fight a nascent rebellion by Tuareg fighters. The soldiers accuse the country’s democratically elected President Amadou Toumani Toure of mishandling the operations and of sending the military to the remote region without enough ammunition.

Several thousand people took to the streets this week in support of the military takeover, indicating that frustration at Toure’s handling of the rebellion is widespread. Toure has gone into hiding and his whereabouts are unknown, though he gave an interview Thursday to French radio RFI saying that he was in good health and was carefully following the developments.

The four Presidents arriving on Thursday are coming under the aegis of the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS. The regional bloc has suspended Mali’s membership and is threatening military action if Sanogo does not step down.

Keywords: Mali coup

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