WASHINGTON - The US State Department on Friday called on the officer who led a military coup in Mali in March to step aside and allow for the full return to civilian rule.

The State Department said the coup leaders had undermined democracy and hampered the West African nation's ability to respond to the humanitarian crisis in northern Mali.

"A strong, stable democratic government in Mali is essential in order for the country to deal successfully with its multiple economic, social and security challenges," the department said in a statement.

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