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    Mali's Interim President Returns from Temporary Exile

    Dioncounda Traore, center, Mali's parliamentary head who was forced into exile after last month's coup, walks with Burkina Faso's Foreign Affairs Minister Djibrill Bassole, right, as Traore arrives in Bamako to take up his constitutionally-mandated post a
    Dioncounda Traore, center, Mali's parliamentary head who was forced into exile after last month's coup, walks with Burkina Faso's Foreign Affairs Minister Djibrill Bassole, right, as Traore arrives in Bamako to take up his constitutionally-mandated post a

    Mali's interim president arrived in Bamako to take office after military coup leaders agreed to hand power to a civilian government in a deal with neighboring countries announced Frirday.

    Former speaker of parliament Dioncounda Traore will serve as president with a transitional government until elections are held.   He flew into Mali Saturday from a temporary exile in neighboring Burkina Faso.

    Ivory Coast official Adama Bictogo said a regional 15-member bloc was lifting the sanctions imposed on Mali to force the military to return power to civilian leaders after reaching an agreement with coup leaders late Friday.

    "As a consequence the president of ECOWAS, Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, in agreement with his peers, has decided to immediately lift the sanctions against Mali," he said.

    President Ouattara currently heads the Economic Community of West African States.  The bloc also pledged to help Mali fight the Tuareg rebels who have seized much of the  country's north and proclaimed an independent state there.

    Coup leader Amadou Sanago has said the junta is stepping aside for an interim government of national unity, in order to lift the total embargo ECOWAS has imposed on the landlocked nation.  

    In Mali's capital Bamako relieved civilians gathered in the streets Saturday, holding up signs calling for peace.

    The coup on March 22 plunged Mali into chaos and led to big gains by Tuareg rebels battling Malian forces in the northern part of the country.  Ironically, the coup leaders had justified their takeover by denouncing what they said was the former government's ineffectual campaign to suppress the Tuareg rebellion.

    Under the agreement, President Amadou Toumani Toure who has been in hiding since the coup, is entitled to live in safety wherever he chooses.  He was ousted just months before a scheduled presidential election when he was due to step down.

    Mali's neighbors all criticized the military takeover and the removal of President Toure.  They also oppose the new "Azawad" state declared by the northern rebels.  In their advance against the Malian army and seizure of Timbuktu and other areas, the Tuaregs have been fighting alongside members of the radical Islamist group Ansar Dine.

    The self-styled National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad controls Timbuktu, Gao city and other areas in the north.  It declared itself independent Friday and said its military campaign was over.  The heavily armed Tuaregs, former based in Moammar Gadhafi's Libya, began fighting in northern Mali in mid-January.

    There has been nearly unanimous international rejection of the MNLA rebels' proclamation. In addition to ECOWAS and other African states, the United States, France and other European powers have said they do not recognize Azawad.

    The agreement with ECOWAS is said to call for a transitional government led by a consensus prime minister, and it calls for the lifting of all sanctions against Mali and an amnesty for coup leaders.

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