By David Lewis
BAMAKO (Reuters) - Mali's coup leaders announced a new constitution including a pledge to allow elections in which they would be barred from standing, even as several thousand supporters rallied in the streets of the capital Bamako on Wednesday.
The charter, which did not specify when the elections would be held, came hours after West Africa's ECOWAS bloc threatened sanctions and the use of military force to reverse last week's coup that ousted President Amadou Toumani Toure.
"Anyone who was a member of the CNRDRE or the government cannot be a candidate in the elections," the new constitution, read out on state television, said of the junta, known as the National Committee for the Return of Democracy and the Restoration of the State.
It added that civilians would be offered 15 out of 41 posts in a new transitional authority intended to prepare the path for elections. Captain Amadou Sanogo, a U.S-trained soldier who led the coup, will appoint an interim prime minister and government.
The new constitution guarantees the right to demonstrate or go on strike and grants immunity from prosecution for leaders of a coup in which rights groups say three people have been killed.
The coup, triggered by army anger at the government's handling of a northern rebellion, has been condemned by the United Nations, Mali's neighbors and powers including France and the United States.
But several thousand Malians protested against international interference - in the largest show of backing for the junta which had been looking increasingly isolated, particularly abroad - 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.
Banners read "Long live the army!" and "Dignity refound!".
On Tuesday leaders of the ECOWAS bloc said they would send a high-powered delegation of six heads of state to confront the coup leaders this week and call for a return to constitutional order. They are expected in the capital Bamako on Friday.
As well as Ivorian President and ECOWAS leader Alassane Ouattara, the delegation includes Nigeria's Goodluck Jonathan, Burkina Faso's Blaise Compaore, Liberia's Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Niger's Mahamadou Issoufou and Benin's Yayi Boni.
The whereabouts of Toure remains unknown but Ouattara said he had spoken to him by phone on Tuesday and that he was safe. Toure is believed to be with a pocket of loyalist soldiers somewhere in Mali.
In a final communiqué, ECOWAS leaders on Tuesday "instructed the ECOWAS Commission to put the ECOWAS Standby Force in a state of readiness for all eventualities".
However the statement did not any include specifics of possible army action. ECOWAS, which has no standing army of its own, would have to go through potentially lengthy processes to raise sufficient troops from member states.
(Editing by Mark John and Louise Ireland)