Top West African officials arrive in Mali after coup

Top West African officials were in Mali's capital on Saturday to meet with junta leaders and the country's deposed president to try to negotiate a return to civilian rule after a coup this week.

The mediation efforts came a day after thousands of Malians took to the streets of Bamako, the capital, to celebrate the coup that ousted elected President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

The West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS has strongly condemned the coup and said the high-level delegation will work ``to ensure the immediate return of constitutional order.'' ECOWAS also demanded the reinstatement of Keita.

ECOWAS had said it's mobilising a regional military force, an indication it's preparing for a military intervention in Mali in case negotiations with the junta leaders fail.

The coup occurred on Tuesday when soldiers detained the president and forced him to resign and to dissolve the National Assembly and government.

By Wednesday, soldiers from the junta calling itself the National Committee for the Salvation of the People had declared they were in charge of the West African nation and would work toward a civilian transitional government. Keita and his prime minister have remained in the custody of the coup leaders.

The international community has expressed alarm about the coup d’etat, which deposed Mali’s democratically elected leader who still had three years left in his term. Mali has been fighting against Islamic extremists with heavy international support for more than seven years, and jihadists have previously used power vacuums in Mali to expand their territory.

Keita — first elected in a 2013 landslide the year after a similar military coup — saw his popularity plummet after his 2018 re-election as the Malian army faced punishing losses from jihadist attacks.

Then after dozens of legislative elections were disputed this spring, demonstrators began taking to the streets calling for his resignation.