Mali's new interim president sworn in after coup

April 12, 2012 - 6:06 AM

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Mali's new interim president took office Thursday, returning the country to civilian rule three weeks after mutinous soldiers overthrew the nation's democratically elected leader in a coup.

Dioncounda Traore, who heads the country's national assembly, is to serve as Mali's president for 40 days according to the constitution. Regional mediators, though, already acknowledge it will take longer than that for the country to organize new elections.

The deal to move Mali back to constitutional rule was hammered out between the head of the military junta that seized power in March and the West African regional bloc ECOWAS. Longtime Mali President Amadou Toumani Toure emerged from hiding this week to render his official resignation.

Toure was just months from finishing his last term when soldiers on March 21 stormed the presidential palace, sending Toure into hiding and overturning a democratic tradition stretching back more than two decades.

The soldiers claimed they had grabbed power because Toure had mishandled a rebellion that began in northern Mali in January. However, it was only after Toure was ousted that the Tuareg rebels succeeded in taking the three largest cities in the region and declared independence.

The loss of the northern half of the country, an area larger than France, has plunged Mali into crisis. The fighters are divided between a secular group and an Islamist faction that wants to impose Shariah law in Mali's moderate north.

Under intense international pressure and regional financial sanctions, Mali's coup leaders signed an accord last Friday, agreeing to return the country to constitutional rule.