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Tuesday, August 17, 1999 Published at 16:06 GMT 17:06 UK

World: South Asia

Execution stay for Gandhi killers

Rajiv Gandhi's funeral procession: Tamil Tigers were blamed for his death

By Rajyasri Rao in Delhi

India's Supreme Court has once again put on hold the execution of four convicts in the long-running investigation into the murder of the former prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, in 1991.

The three-member bench which heard the review petition said it could not give a definite date for the next hearing.

They said it would be fixed only after one of its members, currently engaged at another bench, is available again on this case.

The court said that one week's notice would be given to lawyers involved in the hearing before the next date was fixed.

The Supreme Court had confirmed the death sentence on the four accused in May.

It also commuted the death sentences of three others to life imprisonment, and acquitted 19 other defendants.

Before that, a trial court had convicted and sentenced all 26 of those accused in the murder to capital punishment.

In their review petition, the four who still face the death penalty have asked the court to consider the former prime minister's killing as a case of murder and not of terrorism.

They said that Mr Gandhi's death was caused by personal animosity which does not warrant a death sentence.

Mr Gandhi was blown up in a suicide bomb attack while campaigning as leader of the opposition.

The Indian authorities pinned the murder on the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka who they say were angered over Indian military intervention in the island in the late 1980s.

The Indian Government ordered a judicial inquiry into the assasination and a special wing of the Federal Bureau of Investigation was asked to file a report on the background to the killing.

The prime accused in the case is the Tamil Tiger leader, Velupillai Prabakaran, who is officially recorded as having absconded.

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