Mali coup: I'm free and in Mali, says ousted leader Toure

Ousted Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure Amadou Toumani Toure's whereabouts had been unknown since last week's coup

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Toppled Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure has told reporters he is still in the country, a week after being deposed in a military coup.

Mr Toure's whereabouts had been unknown after the presidential palace was stormed last week.

The leaders of the coup have meanwhile unveiled a new constitution.

They have also announced elections in which those who took part in the coup would be barred from standing, but have not set a date for them.

"I am free and in my country," Mr Toure told French radio station RFI.

He refused to comment on whether he was being protected by loyal soldiers.

When asked his opinion of calls for him to return to the presidency, Mr Toure said: "The most important thing for me is not my own position.

"What is important is democracy, institutions, and Mali."

The coup was led by soldiers unhappy with the way Mr Toure's government had been handling a Tuareg insurgency in the north.

The Tuareg rebels have forced the army out of several northern towns in recent months.

Coup supporters rally

Earlier, an army lieutenant appeared on state TV to read out the text of 69 constitutional articles that the new rulers said were intended to restore rule of law to the country.

Throughout the transition, it said, coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo would be head of state and would appoint a government.

An unidentified leader of the March 22 Popular Movement addresses thousands marching in Bamako in support of Mali's coup leaders Protesters in Bamako rallied in support of the coup and against "foreign interference"

The new constitution provides for a transitional committee composed of 26 members of the security forces and 15 civilians to take power.

Those who serve on the committee will be given immunity from prosecution.

Some of the document is similar to Mali's current constitution, including guarantees of freedom of speech, thought and movement.

Also on Wednesday, several thousand people rallied in the capital Bamako in support of the new military leaders and to protest against "foreign interference" in Mali.

"They [the coup leaders] should stay to resolve the problems in the north, corruption and education. That is more important than elections," one protester, Khalifa Sogo, told Reuters news agency.

"We, the youth, can live without the international community. We have been living with our eyes closed but now we are waking up," said another protester, Oumar Diara.

The coup has been heavily criticised by Mali's neighbours in the regional bloc Ecowas, from which Mali has been suspended, and by Western countries.

Ecowas has announced that it had put regional troops on standby in case military intervention becomes necessary.

A delegation of several Ecowas heads of state is due to go to Mali to press the coup leaders to restore democracy.

Burkinabe Foreign Minister Djibril Bassole told French radio that Ecowas leaders were pushing for a transitional government led by the speaker of Mali's parliament, Agence France Presse reports.

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