Ecowas gives Mali leaders ultimatum to relinquish power

Malian military junta supporters surround a car loaded with soldiers at Bamako airport. Protesters in Bamako rallied in support of the coup and against "foreign interference"

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West African nations have given the leaders of a coup in Mali 72 hours to relinquish power or face sanctions.

The regional body Ecowas said the proposed measures included closing land borders and freezing Mali's assets.

The leaders met in Ivory Coast, after earlier plans for talks with the coup leaders in the Malian capital, Bamako, were abandoned as coup supporters occupied the airport's runway.

Mali's neighbours have already told the junta to step aside.

They have also placed a peacekeeping force on standby.

Queues at banks

The president of the commission of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, told reporters that if the deadline was not met, all the 15 countries of the bloc would deny Mali access to their ports, and there would be no transfers to commercial banks in Mali from the regional central bank, based in Senegal.

Analysis

It is difficult to see how Mali's junta could survive an economic blockade. Mali remains desperately poor and the landlocked country is almost totally dependent on its Ecowas neighbours for trade. The only non-Ecowas borders (Algeria and Mauritania) run across the Sahara Desert.

As former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo found a year ago, being part of West Africa's CFA franc zone puts considerable powers in regional hands, and your neighbours can effectively shut down your formal financial sector from outside.

Coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo is in an even weaker position, with fewer international friends. He looks to have little choice but to negotiate.

His declared aim in leading the coup was to strengthen the country's resolve against the northern insurgency. But this Ecowas ultimatum means he will only weaken the defences if he refuses to step aside.

Mali is one of eight West African countries which use a common currency - the CFA franc.

The BBC's John James in Ivory Coast says it is difficult to see how the regime in poor, landlocked Mali could cope if these sanctions were imposed.

He says the financial isolation of the government of then Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo played a key role in weakening his grip on power last year - and he was in a far stronger position than coup leader Capt Amadou Sanogo.

Journalist Martin Vogl in Bamako told the BBC's Network Africa programme that even before the deadline was announced, there were long queues of people trying to withdraw money from banks in Mali's capital.

He says people are now likely to stock up on essential goods such as food, as well as petrol, which must be imported.

There has been no official reaction to the deadline from Mali's military rulers but Martin Vogl says they are very angry.

He says many Malians are upset that after 20 years of democracy, the army is once more in charge but there was also growing disillusionment with the ousted government and some feel Ecowas is pushing too hard.

New rebel attack

The coup leaders have unveiled a new constitution as well as announcing elections in which those who took part in the coup would be barred from standing. However, no date has yet been set.

Ousted Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure Ousted President Amadou Toumani Toure says he is in good health and free

The coup was led by soldiers unhappy with the way President Amadou Toumani 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 and on Thursday attacked the town of Kidal.

Under the new constitution, a transitional committee composed of 26 members of the security forces and 15 civilians would 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.

Mr Toure - widely known as ATT - said on Wednesday that he remained in the country, free and in good health.

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