From one of the hiding places where he has been holed up since last month's coup, Mali's ousted president penned a resignation letter Sunday and in the presence of reporters handed it to an emissary to deliver to the country's new leaders.

The move by Amadou Toumani Toure, reported by the Associated Press, paves the way for Mali to name a new interim president, the next step in the nation's return to democratic rule. Toure was just months from finishing his last term, when soldiers on March 21 stormed the presidential palace, sending him into hiding and canceling a democratic tradition stretching back more than two decades.

Under intense international pressure, however, the officers who seized power last month signed an accord on Friday, agreeing to return the country to constitutional rule. They did so after much of the capital, Bamako, only had 12 hours of electricity a day, a result of the severe financial sanctions imposed by neighboring countries, including the closure of the country's borders, which made it impossible for landlocked Mali to import fuel.

The accord signed by the leader of the March 21 coup called for the application of Article 36 of Mali's constitution. The article states that in the event the president is unable to serve out his term, the head of the national assembly becomes interim president for a transitional period, before new elections can be held.

For that article to be able to be applied properly, the constitutional court needed to confirm that the president cannot carry out his term.

Reporters from state television and French television station France 24 were allowed to film Toure at a villa in the capital where he has been hiding. Looking thinner than before, the 63-year-old leader appeared in a flowing white robe and traditional bonnet. He said he was resigning of his own accord.

I am doing this without any pressure, in good faith, and it is especially out of love for my country that I have decided to hand in my resignation letter, Toure said.

His resignation will allow the court to declare the vacancy of power, paving the way for the head of the national assembly, Dioncounda Traore, to become interim president, as called for in the constitution.

Traore, who was exiled following the military coup last month, returned to the country Saturday after the coup leader, Army Capt. Amadou Sanogo, agreed to reinstate constitutional rule.

With Traore's return, sanctions were lifted by the Economic Community of West African Nations, or Ecowas.

Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo has launched the process to put into effect Article 36 of the Constitution of Feb. 25, 1992, allowing thereby a return to constitutional order in Mali, said Adama Bictogo, Ivory Coast's minsters of African integration, AP reported. As a result, the president of Ecowas ... has decided to immediately lift all the sanctions against Mali.

The soldiers who grabbed power 17 days ago claimed they did so because of President Toure's mishandling of a rebellion in the north, which began in January. Toure's popularity took a nosedive because of his lack of assertiveness in the face of the mounting attacks, which inflicted large casualties on Mali's ill-equipped army.

The ethnic Tuareg rebels had succeeded in taking a dozen small towns, but it was only after Toure was forced from power that the insurgents succeeded in taking the three largest towns in the north. Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu all fell last weekend, and on Friday, the same day that the junta declared they were stepping down, the rebels declared their independence.

In an interview with Burkina Faso state radio before he flew back to Mali on Saturday, Traore said the top priority was to restore order to Mali's state institutions after the coup and to deal with this problem of the north.

Our goal is the territorial integrity of Mali and the pursuit of our democratic project, Traore said of a state which had been viewed as one of the region's more stable democracies. He made no comment to reporters as he arrived in Bamako later.

Sanogo, dressed in battle fatigues and showing signs of tiredness, called on ECOWAS countries to help the Malian army with transport and logistics rather than send ground troops as they are discussing, Reuters reported.

The Malian army still needs help precisely on logistics and air support but not ground troops to help us solve the security problem in northern Mali, he said.

We have to sit and talk. If they want to help us it should be according to our needs, added Sanogo, surrounded by aides and sitting beneath a large portrait of himself on the wall.

The African Union, ECOWAS and foreign capitals from Paris to Washington all dismissed Friday's declaration by the Tuareg-led MNLA rebels of the independent state of Azawad, a desert region bigger than France in Mali's north.

Neighbors fear secession would encourage such movements in their own countries, while the presence of Islamists among the rebels has raised fears of the emergence of a rogue state with echoes of Taliban-era Afghanistan which sheltered al Qaeda.

Residents in northern cities such as the ancient trading post of Timbuktu, Kidal and Gao have said the local Islamist Ansar Dine group has banned Western dress and music. There have been sightings of senior members of the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the group's North African branch.

ECOWAS nations such as Nigeria and Ivory Coast have asked military planners to prepare for an intervention force of up to 3,000 troops with a mandate to secure Mali's return to constitutional order and halt any further rebel advances.

The French Foreign Ministry on Saturday welcomed the accord to hand power back to civilians in Bamako and repeated its offer to provide transport and other logistics for the force.

The ex-colonial power said there can be no purely military solution to the rebellion and says some of the year-old grievances of the fairer-skinned Tuaregs against the darker-skinned elite that has dominated Bamako politics are justified.