BAMAKO, Mali (AP) -- Mali's embattled coup leader said late Friday that the process is now under way to make the National Assembly president the next head of state, hours after separatist Tuareg rebels declared their independence.
Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo made the comments to Associated Press journalists gathered at his office along with officials from neighboring West African nations.
The Economic Community of West African States, a regional bloc, imposed harsh financial sanctions earlier this week aimed at forcing Sanogo from power after he overthrew democratically elected President Amadou Toumani Toure in late March.
The coup launched by mutinous soldiers reversed more than two decades of democracy in the deeply impoverished nation.
Tuareg rebels fighting a three-month-old insurgency have taken advantage of the power vacuum and have wrested control of the northern half of the country since the coup, declaring an independent state on Friday. The move was swiftly condemned by Mali's neighbors.
The United States, France and the European Union already have cut all but essential humanitarian aid to the country.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland has said that Sanogo must immediately release his "illegitimate grip on Mali and its people." The State Department also has banned the coup leader, his closest associates and their family members from traveling to the U.S.
The ECOWAS bloc, representing six of the eight countries that border Mali, has been uncharacteristically harsh in its condemnation of the coup. Surrounding nations imposed severe financial sanctions on Mali earlier this week, including the closing of the country's borders and the freezing of its account at the regional central bank. The nation imports all of its fuel, which is trucked in from neighboring Ivory Coast and Senegal.