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Sat, 07 Apr 2012 11:14 - Updated Sat, 07 Apr 2012 11:14

Mali's neighbours back junta exit plan


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Bbamako - Mali's two-week-old junta agreed on Friday to hand over rule to civilians in return for the end of sanctions by worried neighbours who had threatened to strangle the economy of the West African country.

The accord between leaders of a March 22 coup and regional mediators came the day Tuareg rebels declared the independence of the northern half of Mali they seized in a lightning advance earlier this week - a secession bid shunned by the world.

The exit of the junta has been a precondition for countries of the 15-state West African bloc ECOWAS to step in to help resolve a crisis in what had been one of the region's most stable democracies, possibly by the use of military force.

"The parliament speaker is appointed by the Constitutional Court as interim president," read the five-page document signed by the mediators and Captain Amadou Sanogo, the hitherto obscure officer behind last month's coup.

"With the signing of this accord, the current president of ECOWAS will take the necessary steps to lift the sanctions imposed on Mali," it said of a crippling border closure, the suspension of its account at the regional central bank, and travel bans and asset freezes on junta members.

The accord did not say when Sanogo would step down to allow the swearing-in of parliament speaker Diouncounda Traore and acknowledged that holding elections within the 40 days set out by the constitution would be impossible in the circumstances.