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West African states put peacekeepers on standby over Mali

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In the chaos that ensued, soldiers stormed the presidential palace and drove into hiding President Amadou Toumani Toure, who was due to step down next month. In a matter of hours, they erased two decades of democratic rule.

Besides the threat of military intervention, Mali's neighbors could suffocate the nation financially. Many of the 15 nations represented on the regional bloc share the same currency, and they could together decide to cut off Mali's supply of cash. Also if nearby Ivory Coast were to shut its border, landlocked Mali, a nation twice the size of Texas spanning over an expanse of scrubland, verdant hills and desert dunes, would run out of gasoline, which is trucked in from Ivorian refineries.

The coup took the region and the world by surprise, because Mali has long been held up as one of the few established democracies in the troubled western corner of the continent. Late Tuesday on state television, the newscaster announced that Mali would soon be under a new constitution, indicating the putschists are moving forward with plans to create a new government, and not restoring the nation's previous democratic order.

Later Tuesday, an army lieutenant read out the lengthy document consisting of 69 articles. The first part appeared to be lifted from the country's current constitution, including the guarantees of free speech, liberty of movement and freedom of thought. The middle and final sections set out the role of the military committee now controlling the country, which calls itself the National Committee for the Reestablishment of Democracy and the Restoration of the State.

The new constitution says that the committee will be made up of 27 soldiers and 15 civilians. Those asked to serve on the committee will receive immunity and cannot be tried at a later time. Article 42 says that the head of the committee is Mali's new head of state. He will appoint a prime minister.

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