Bamako - Mali's one year transition back to democratic rule got off to a shaky start on Tuesday, amid fears the process may be derailed after President Dioncounda Traore was attacked by angry protesters.
Traore's inner circle shot down suggestions he may resign as head of the transition, which a UN Security Council delegation warned was in danger after the attack which saw the new Malian leader beaten in his own office on Monday.
"Resigning now would play in the hands of those who are against Mali," said a source from Traore's entourage.
The 70-year-old former speaker has remained out of sight since being released from hospital on Monday afternoon, but his prime minister Cheick Modibo Diarra called for calm, urging youths to put an end to protests in Bamako.
The attack came hours after mediators from the west African bloc Ecowas left the country pleased at having convinced coup leaders to accept a Traore-led 12-month transition back to democratic rule after a 22 March coup.
France's UN ambassador Gerard Araud told reporters in Abidjan on Monday that diplomatic efforts by Ecowas have been "put seriously in danger by these latest developments [and] maybe other options will now have to be considered."
A Western diplomatic source said that Ecowas was mulling deploying a regional military force in Mali to assure the transition.
Anti-coup coalition the United Front for the Protection of Democracy and the Republic (FDR) expressed shock that "appropriate measures were not taken to protect the presidential palace and president" during the protest.
The angry crowd, which was in favour of the ouster of president Amadou Toumani Toure and does not want Traore leading the transition, besieged his offices despite the presence of hundreds of security guards.
They managed to gain access to his office, beating him badly enough to require a visit to the hospital where he underwent an examination of a head wound and back injury.
"He is walking on his own and is in possession of all his faculties, but he is a little tired," said a family member on condition of anonymity.
One protester was seriously injured and six others hurt as soldiers tried to stop them.
Traore's party, the Malian Democratic Alliance, said the attack "raised serious questions about the state security services" suggesting complicity between the protesters and security forces.
One of west Africa's most stable democracies, Mali was plunged into crisis when Captain Amadou Sanogo led a band of low-ranking soldiers to oust Toure's government.
On 12 April the putschists agreed on a return to civilian rule and Traore was inaugurated as interim leader, but the former junta refused Ecowas proposals that he stay on for a 12-month transition period.
Traore was due to step down after a constitutionally mandated 40-day interim presidency, which would have plunged the institutions back into crisis.
Politicians felt Sanogo had done an about-turn and was jockeying to lead the transition himself.
But on Sunday Sanogo accepted a sweetened deal as he was offered all the benefits that a former president would be owed: housing, transport, security and an allowance.
As tensions remained in Bamako, the foreign minister of Ivory Coast, which currently holds the Ecowas presidency, hinted at a hard stance from the bloc, which he said "cannot support this attitude", referring to the attack on Traore.
"We cannot continue like this," he said, promising that "measures" will be announced shortly.
A 3 000 strong standby force from the region is ready for deployment if Mali requests it.
Stability in Bamako is urgently needed to address a crisis in the north, where Tuareg and Islamist rebels seized an area larger than France in the wake of the coup.