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India Court To Hear Gandhi Appeals

March 27, 1998

NEW DELHI, India (AP) _ The Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear the appeals of 26 people convicted in the 1991 assassination of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

The death sentences handed down against all 26 were suspended pending appeal, local news agencies reported.

Hearings were expected in two months, after thousands of pages of records from lower court proceedings are translated into English from the Tamil, the language widely spoken in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

Gandhi was killed in that state while campaigning for his party in general elections.

The verdicts and sentences were handed down Jan. 28 after a lengthy trial. The death sentence is rarely passed in India, then often not carried out, but Judge V. Navaneetham said in January that he wanted to send a warning to would-be terrorists.

As prime minister in 1987, Gandhi had sent Indian troops to neighboring Sri Lanka to help put down an uprising by ethnic Tamils fighting for an independent Tamil state in northern and eastern Sri Lanka.

Tamils in India, who are concentrated in Tamil Nadu, share linguistic, cultural and family ties with Tamils living in neighboring Sri Lanka. Tamils from both India and Sri Lanka were convicted in Gandhi’s assassination.

Lower-ranking members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Sri Lanka’s main rebel group, were among the 26 convicted.

Three Tiger leaders, including top rebel Velupillai Prabhakaran, were accused of ordering the assassination. They are believed at large in the jungles of Sri Lanka.

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