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By Tiemoko Diallo
BAMAKO (Reuters) - Mali's Dioncounda Traore was sworn in as interim president of the West African country on Thursday after leaders of a March 22 coup agreed to hand back power to civilians.
Traore, previously the speaker of the national parliament, was sworn in by Supreme Court President Nouhoum Tapily at a brief ceremony in the capital Bamako.
He faces the uphill task of organising new elections in the mostly desert state, where Tuareg-led rebels and Islamist allies earlier this month seized the northern half of the country in a lightning advance made in the aftermath of the coup.
"I am president of a country that loves peace," Traore, 70, who donned a presidential sash over his dark suit, said after the swearing-in.
"I call on the rebels to halt all abuses," added Traore, a labour activist who was jailed for opposing Mali's dictatorship in the 1980s but went on to hold a number of cabinet posts after the launch of multi-party politics in the country in the 1990s.
Mali's north, a zone larger than France, has been hit by pillaging and reports of human rights abuses including rapes and killings since the rebel seizures of key towns including the ancient trading post of Timbuktu and the garrison town of Gao.
Mali's neighbours and security experts fear this heralds the emergence of a new "rogue state" providing a haven for local al Qaeda allies and Islamists who are currently seeking to impose sharia law on the parts of northern territory they control.
Leaders of the Tuareg-led separatist rebels have distanced themselves from their Islamist companions-in-arms. They have declared a secular Tuareg homeland of "Azawad" in northern Mali - a secession bid that has been snubbed by the world.
(Additional reporting by Adama Diarra; Writing by; Mark John; Editing by Pascal Fletcher)
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