A delegation of army chiefs from the Economic Community of West African States bloc has arrived in Bamako ahead of a team of six heads of state as Mali's neighbours attempt to restore constitutional order after last week’s coup.
Led by Blaise Compaore, president of Burkina Faso, the ECOWAS leaders’ team is expected to arrive on Thursday even as several thousand people took to the streets of the capital in support of the coup and to protest against the possible use of force by Mali's neighbours.
The visit comes as toppled president Amadou Toumani Toure, whose whereabouts have been unknown since he was overthrown on March 22, told the AFP news agency that he was safe in Bamako and was not being held by the coup leaders.
"I am indeed in Bamako, and thank God my family and I are doing well," Toure said in a brief telephone conversation.
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Asked about his location, Toure responded: "Does it matter? What is important to know is that I am not being held prisoner.
"I am obviously following what is happening, I wish with all my heart that peace and democracy triumph in Mali. I have nothing else to say for the moment," he said.
The fate of Toure, 63, had raised concern in the past six days, since renegade soldiers forced him to flee as they fired on the presidency last weekend in a mutiny which led to the full-blown coup.
Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Bamako, said there were conflicting reports over the current location of the president.
He also said that the military leaders of ECOWAS had made it quite clear to Captain Sanogo that there was no way out of the crisis "but for him to step aside and restore the legitimate authority of the president."
"If he rejects the offer, they will push further for economic sanctions." our correspondent said. "It is an incredibly delicate moment for Captain Sanogo with the mounting international pressure."
Support for coup leaders
The coup, triggered by army anger at the government's handling of a northern rebellion, has been condemned by the United Nations, Mali's neighbours and world powers including France and the United States.
"They should stay to resolve the problems in the north, corruption and education. That is more important than elections."
- Khalifa Sogo, Malian citizen
But several thousand Malians protested on Wednesday against international interference - in the largest show of backing for the new leadership, insisting the soldiers be left to run the state while tackling the rebellion.
"They should stay to resolve the problems in the north, corruption and education. That is more important than elections," said one protester, Khalifa Sogo, of the dissatisfaction felt by many Malians with Toure's rule.
"It's the first show of public support," Ahelbarra reported, adding that some people claimed it was choreographed by coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo.
"He has to show the world that he's popular, that people love him, that people are taking to the streets to defend his policies."
Earlier, the coup leaders had unveiled a new constitution and pledged to hold elections.
The charter, which did not specify when the elections would be held, was read out on behalf of the coup leaders on state television. The leaders said none of them would stand in the upcoming elections.
They said civilians would be offered 15 out of 41 posts in a new transitional authority intended to prepare the path for elections and Captain Sanogo will appoint an interim prime minister and government.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies