BAMAKO - Mali braced for possible sanctions on Monday after its military rulers pledged to start returning power to civilians but no concrete moves were taken and it was not clear if neighbors would lift threats of isolation.
A 72-hour deadline, set by West African bloc ECOWAS, for soldiers to start returning to barracks expired as northern separatist rebels said they had completed a lightning push south, seizing three regional capitals in as many days as Mali's army units retreated.
The coup, a month before President Amadou Toumani Toure was due to step down for elections has shattered the international reputation of stability and democracy that Africa's No. 3 gold producer previously enjoyed.
The push by rebels, whose ranks were swelled by fighters returning from Libya's conflict, has also deepened insecurity across the Sahara-Sahel band, already awash with Islamists, traffickers and bandits.