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U.S. calls for Mali coup leaders to step down

From Eric Agnero, For CNN
March 30, 2012 -- Updated 2141 GMT (0541 HKT)
The military deposed the president after accusing the defense minister of failing to provide resources to fight an insurgency.
The military deposed the president after accusing the defense minister of failing to provide resources to fight an insurgency.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: A State Department spokesman urges presidential elections
  • The Economic Community of West African States has given the junta a deadline
  • Give back power within 72 hours or face sanctions, ECOWAS says
  • A military junta ousted Mali's president last week

Abidjan, Ivory Coast (CNN) -- The United States called on coup leaders in Mali on Friday to step down and allow for elections to take place.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner spoke one day after the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) gave the military junta that ousted Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure three days to hand back power to civilians or face "diplomatic and financial embargo."

"We echo ECOWAS's call for the mutineers to step down and allow for a swift return to democratic rule and for presidential elections to ultimately take place," he told reporters in Washington.

The group of African leaders issued its warning Thursday after meeting in emergency session.

Erin Burnett's message for Mali
Map shows location of Mali  Map shows location of Mali
Map shows location of MaliMap shows location of Mali

ECOWAS "invite(s) its states to impose a travel ban for members of the junta and a diplomatic and financial embargo on the country if there is no return to constitutional order within a maximum period of 72 hours," said Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, the group's president.

In addition to closing borders shared with member states and banning travel outside Mali by junta members, ECOWAS said its potential sanctions include a "freezing of assets of the junta members and their partners, as well as no access to the ports of the coastal countries of ECOWAS." Mali could also face the freezing of its accounts at the West African Central Bank.

The group of heads of states led by Ivorian President and ECOWAS Chairman Allasane Ouattara met in Abidjan, after a pro-junta demonstration at the airport in the Malian capital of Bamako prevented them from landing in Mali for a prearranged meeting. They were heading to to meet with key members of the junta, which wrested control of the West African nation last week.

Megan Larson-Kone of the U.S. mission in Mali told CNN that "a small group of demonstrators ... threatened to put themselves on the runway, making it difficult for the aircraft to land. The diplomatic missions of the countries involved made a decision that it would be safer ... to turn back."

The ECOWAS leaders had arranged a meeting with Capt. Amadou Sanogo, leader the junta that deposed Toure, a two-term president.

Coup leaders deposed the president, occupied his residence and took over the national television station after accusing the country's defense minister of failing to provide them with enough resources to fight an insurgency in the north.

Meanwhile, the nomadic Tuareg who are fighting for autonomy in the north have taken advantage of chaos in the capital to occupy more territory. Toner, on Friday, said he was aware of reports to that effect and that the United States is "very concerned."

Now in Mali -- once hailed as a shining example of African democracy, having experienced more than 20 years of democratic government -- the threat of sanctions has prompted some to take precautions.

Mamadou Konate, a Bamako resident, told CNN that people were lining up to empty their bank accounts. "We are stocking up," Konate said. "These sanction are severe and will harm the small people, 80% of the population."

Mali, a poor country with no access to the sea and heavily dependent on foreign aid, is divided after the coup. Many Malians have taken to the streets to show their support for the junta. Likewise, opponents of the junta have demonstrated in hopes of seeing the soldiers go.

On Monday, the United States suspended a portion of its aid to Mali in response to the coup. "We want to see the elected government restored as quickly as possible," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

On Tuesday, ECOWAS suspended Mali's membership, with Ouattara saying, "Dialogue and consultation will be the first instruments in finding a solution, but (ECOWAS members) will not hesitate to use any other option."

CNN's Nkepile Mabuse contributed to this report.

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