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Eyewitness Account of Gandhi Assassination With PM-India, Bjt

May 22, 1991

SRIPERAMBUDUR, India (AP) _ Editor’s Note: An Associated Press reporter was covering the rally during which Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated, standing barely 15 yards from the hidden bomb that killed the former prime minister. This is his account:

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Rajiv Gandhi was an hour late, but that was nothing unusual and it didn’t matter. It was a cool summer evening, there was a festive air, and the fireworks were crackling.

Before the Congress Party leader reached the open field for the election rally, reporters saw him stop on the roadside near a memorial to his mother, Indira Gandhi, assassinated in 1984. He placed a garland on the statue and continued on his way.

A half-hour before, a top police officer had mused about how southern India had escaped most of the political violence that has claimed hundreds of lives in the north.

Gandhi alighted from his car and walked down a red carpet toward the podium where he was to address the crowd of 10,000.

He smiled and waved as he walked past a basket of flowers on the ground.

Suddenly, there was a brilliant light and a deafening blast, and splinters flew from wooden barricades. At first it seemed that some Congress Party supporters had set off an oversized firecracker.

But the burning stench and the first wails of horror quickly brought home the truth.

For a few seconds, there was a dazed stillness and lack of reaction, even among the security men. People in the back of the crowd didn’t realize anything was wrong. They kept cheering.

Half a dozen men were running, bleeding from deep wounds. A woman in a blue sari was lying on the ground, injured and crying. Around her, a pile of mangled bodies were twisted grotesquely.

There, clumped with three other bodies, was the disfigured shape of the former prime minister. The left side of his face had been ripped off.

A small portion of his fair skin was still visible on the right side. He had been the only fair person among the dark south Indians.

Some in the crowd noticed his white canvas shoes were still intact.

Fourteen or 15 other people lay on the ground in blood-soaked clothing, some moaning, some silent.

A woman ran toward the podium shouting ″Thalaivar, thalaivar,″ which means ″the leader″ in the language of the Tamils of south India.

″He is gone,″ muttered a local Congress Party chief after seeing Gandhi’s body.

Someone screamed, ″There could be another one 3/8″

People began racing for the exits.

Youths began shouting and throwing stones.

A reporter took the road to Madras, 25 miles away.

Along a portion of the highway leading to the airport, it was evident that news of Gandhi’s death had yet to spread.

Theme music from popular films blared over loudspeakers.

People lined the road, waiting to cheer Rajiv Gandhi on to his next stop.

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