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People rally to protest against the recent military coup, in Bamako, Mali on March 29, 2012. The banner amidst the crowd reads 'One people, one goal, one faith. Return to constitutional order.' (Rebecca Blackwell/Associated Press)

The junior officer who grabbed power in a coup says he plans to hold free elections and to rapidly return Mali to its established order, but refused to give a timetable even as neighbouring countries prepare to enact severe financial sanctions.

The coup leader, Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo, told reporters Friday that he "understands" the position of the West Africa regional body, which has given the junta 72 hours to step aside before it will seal off its borders and cut off the country's access to the regional central bank.

Sanogo asked the regional body to support him, saying the junta seized control of the country with the plan of "holding a rapid process of normalization and organizing free and transparent elections."