Delegates from West Africa's regional bloc are holding talks aimed at an early return to civilian rule after a military coup in troubled nation deposed Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

Former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan (C) walks at the International Airport in Bamako upon his arrival on August 22, 2020 next to by Malick Diaw (4R), the Vice President of the CNSP (National Committee for the Salvation of the People).
Former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan (C) walks at the International Airport in Bamako upon his arrival on August 22, 2020 next to by Malick Diaw (4R), the Vice President of the CNSP (National Committee for the Salvation of the People). (AFP)

West African envoys trying to restore order after a military coup in Mali have met the country's ousted president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

"We have seen president Keita," delegation head and former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan told AFP on Saturday, adding that "the negotiations are going well," 

Only three members of the delegation from the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (or ECOWAS) were allowed to meet with Keita at an undisclosed location, after he was ousted in the coup on Tuesday.

The top West African officials arrived in Mali's capital following a coup in the nation this week to negotiate a return to civilian rule.

"ECOWAS appreciates what is happening in Mali and ECOWAS wants the best for the country," Jonathan said after his arrival.

"We're going to discuss with all stakeholders and I think at the end of the day we'll come out with something that is good for the country, good for ECOWAS and good for the international community."

A delegation official said they would meet members of the junta and later Keita, who is being held with prime minister Boubou Cisse in Kati, a military base northwest of capital Bamako where the coup was unleashed.

READ MORE: Mali coup leaders face severe international condemnation

'They think they are next'

After three days of calm in the capital Bamako after Tuesday's ouster of Keita, police used tear gas on Saturday when a scuffle broke out between a group of 50 pro-Keita protesters and local residents who threw stones, an eyewitness told Reuters news agency.

Immediately after Tuesday's coup, ECOWAS bloc quickly shut borders and ended financial flows – a move that diplomats said was as much about warning opponents at home as stabilising Mali.

"They cannot tolerate this taking place. They are taking it very personally. It is on their doorstep and they think they are next," one regional diplomat said.

READ MORE: Mali mutineers pledge elections after unseating Keita in coup

Tough response

The presidents of Ivory Coast and Guinea are among those pushing for a tough response, another diplomat said, as both have faced violent public protests to their third-term bids and want the bloc to show it will not tolerate power grabs in its own backyard.

Adding to the international pressure, the United States on Friday suspended military aid to Mali, with no further training or support of the Mali armed forces.

A junta of military officers has controlled the country since Tuesday when the mutineers detained Keita at gunpoint and forced him to resign.

They have promised to oversee a transition to elections within a "reasonable" amount of time.

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

READ MORE: US suspends cooperation with Mali army after Keita's ouster

Jubilation

The ouster of Keita, known as IBK, has been welcomed by many in Mali, which was rocked by months of protests calling for his resignation over alleged corruption and worsening security in areas where affiliates of al Qaeda and Daesh are active.

Thousands of jubilant Malians took to the streets of Bamako on Friday to celebrate the toppling of Keita, who was reelected in 2018 but became the focus of widespread discontent.

The crowds gathered in Bamako's central square draped in the national flag and blasting on vuvuzela horns.

The rally, originally organised as an anti-Keita protest by a loose coalition that has led months of mass rallies against him, was recast to "celebrate the victory of the Malian people".

"I am overjoyed! We won," said Mariam Cisse, 38.

'ECOWAS should midwife transition'

Speaking at the rally Ismael Wague, spokesman for the junta which calls itself the National Committee for the Salvation of the People, paid tribute to the public.

"We merely completed the work that you began and we recognise ourselves in your fight," he said.

"Reinstating IBK is out of the question. The only thing they (the delegation) can achieve is the transition. Under the rules of ECOWAS, ECOWAS should midwife the transition," the second diplomat said, referring to the outcome of the delegation's talks.

On Friday, thousands of the coup's supporters gathered in a central square in Bamako to celebrate the takeover. There is no outward sign ECOWAS's suspension of financial relations is yet being felt. 

Source: TRTWorld and agencies