West African leaders on Thursday said they would dispatch envoys to Mali to help secure "the immediate return of constitutional order" following a military coup and called for its ousted president to be restored to office.
Rebel soldiers seized power on Tuesday, detaining President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, Prime Minister Boubou Cisse and other officials in a fresh setback for a country battling chronic instability and a jihadist revolt.
"We have decided to immediately send a high-level delegation in order to ensure the immediate return of constitutional order," the regional bloc ECOWAS said at the end of a video summit in a statement read by President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger.
Issoufou said that through talks, ECOWAS would "convey to the leaders of the military junta that the times of taking power by force are over in this region."
The bloc also called for "the restoration of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita as president."
The coup is Mali's second in eight years.
A putsch in 2012 was followed by an insurrection in the north of the country which developed into a jihadist insurgency that now threatens neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso.
Thousands of UN and French troops, along with soldiers from five Sahel countries, have been deployed to try to stem the bloodshed.
"Mali is in a critical situation, with serious risks that a collapse of the state and institutions leads to reversals in the fight against terrorism and organised crime, with every consequence for all our community," Issoufou warned.
Keita's overthrow culminated months-long protests in which ECOWAS -- the Economic Community of West African States -- had tried to play a mediating role.
The bloc proposed setting up a unity government including opposition representatives, but also stood firmly by the 75-year-old Keita. The package was bluntly rejected by the opposition.
In addition to the president and the prime minister, the military detained Defence Minister Ibrahima Dahirou Dembele; Security Minister M'Bemba Moussa Keita; and the president of the National Assembly, Moussa Timbine, according to various sources.
They also arrested army chief of staff General Abdoulaye Coulibaly; the president's personal chief of staff, General Oumar Dao; air force chief General Souleymane Doucoure; and the head of the National Guard, Ouahoun Kone.
The African Union, the European Union, United States and UN Security Council have all condemned the putsch and demanded the release of detained leaders.
Reports of deaths
Calling itself the National Committee for the Salvation of the People, under the leadership of a colonel named Assimi Goita, the junta has vowed to stage elections within a "reasonable time" and respect "all past agreements," including international anti-jihadist missions.
It also urged citizens to return to normal life and warned against acts of vandalism after some buildings were torched.
Soldiers were stationed in Bamako Thursday in front of the administrative centre which houses most of the ministries.
Markets were open and Malians, who seemed to generally welcome the change of regime, went about their business as usual.
Amnesty International joined calls for the immediate release of all those arrested during the coup and for an investigation into the reported deaths of four people during Tuesday's events.
The NGO said 15 others were wounded.
"All the victims were hit by bullets in unclear circumstances and were sent to the Gabriel Toure hospital in the capital Bamako," Samira Daoud, Amnesty International's director for West and Central Africa, said in a statement.
The junta has denied that there were any casualties during the mutiny.
ECOWAS comprises 15 members, including Mali, but within hours of Keita's overthrow, the group announced it was immediately suspending the country from its internal decision-making bodies.
That statement also called for the immediate release of Keita and other detained leaders, said its members would close land and air borders to Mali and threatened sanctions against the coup leaders.
It also requested an "immediate buildup" of the ECOWAS Standby Force, a multidisciplinary force of military, civilian and police personnel.
ECOWAS has intervened in several crises in West Africa, including in The Gambia, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Keita won election in a landslide in 2013, putting himself forward as a unifying figure in a fractured country.
He was re-elected in 2018, defeating Cisse.
But public anger snowballed over his failure to roll back a bloody jihadist revolt, mixing explosively with frustration at Mali's moribund economy and perceptions of government graft.
Mass protests began after long-delayed legislative elections in April were followed by a disputed outcome.
On Wednesday, the June 5 Movement, a broad coalition of protest groups, said it "took note of the (junta's) commitment" for a civilian transition.
It promised to work with it on "developing a roadmap," and said it planned to organise large rallies on Friday to "celebrate the victory of the Malian people".