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Sunday, May 23, 1999 Published at 18:57 GMT 19:57 UK

World: South Asia

Gandhi 'assassination plot' uncovered

Supporters of Mrs Gandhi use their blood to demand her return

The Indian Government has stepped up security for Sonia Gandhi, former president of the opposition Congress party, after receiving information that her life was under threat.

An official statement said Mrs Gandhi - currently at the centre of a row over her suitability to be the Congress candidate for prime minister - had been warned of the situation and advised to take extra precautions when she appeared in public.

[ image: Mrs Gandhi pours flowers on the grave of her assassinated husband, Rajiv Gandhi]
Mrs Gandhi pours flowers on the grave of her assassinated husband, Rajiv Gandhi
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said he was aware of a threat to Mrs Gandhi's life, and promised to take steps to ensure her safety.

Home Minister LK Advani has ordered the secret service and police to enhance her security and be vigilant against militants trying to disrupt the coming general elections.

"Pre-emptive security measures are beginning to fall into place and no terrorist group will be able to carry out any major operation anywhere in the country," the Press Trust of India quoted Mr Advani as saying.

'Fascist clique'

Congress spokesman Arjum Singh said the "same fascist clique" that assassinated Mahatma Gandhi in 1948 was now trying to target Sonia Gandhi in what he called a "diabolical plot".

Mahatma Gandhi, who pioneered the Indian independence movement against the British, was shot dead by a Hindu militant who blamed him for the creation of Pakistan.

He is not related to Sonia Gandhi.

Party resignation

[ image: Congress supporters pray for Mrs Gandhi's return]
Congress supporters pray for Mrs Gandhi's return
Mrs Gandhi resigned as president of the Congress party last week after party colleagues challenged her right to become prime minister because of her Italian origins.

She has also come under fire from critics for her lack of political experience.

Congress has repeatedly said that she is the party's choice to contest the forthcoming elections. It has given no sign that it is even contemplating an alternative leader, regarding Mrs Gandhi as its vote-winner even if opposing parties continue to target her foreign roots.

Party activists have been putting pressure on her to return as leader, and she is widely expected to do so after a formal request from the party on Tuesday.

Whether these latest disclosures will influence her decision about her role is yet to be seen.

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