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DATE=10/8/1999 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=INDIA - GANDHI ASSASSINATION NUMBER=2-254797 BYLINE=PAMELA D'SOUZA DATELINE=NEW DELHI CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: India's Supreme Court has upheld the death sentences of four Tamil rebels convicted of assassinating former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. As Pamela D'souza reports from New Delhi, the Supreme Court had earlier set aside death sentences for 22 others convicted in the case. Text: Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber during his re-election campaign for prime minister in southern India in 1991. Twenty-six people were tried, convicted and sentenced to death in the case. However, India's Supreme Court recently set aside death sentences for 22 of the 26 convicted, changing their sentences to life in prison. The court upheld death sentences for the four others, including one woman. Human rights groups have criticized the decision because two of the convicted assassins are married to each other and have a child. Mr. Gandhi was killed by a suicide bomber while campaigning in Sriperumbudur in southern Tamil Nadu. A government inquiry investigating the murder blamed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, an extremist group fighting for an independent homeland in northern and eastern Sri Lanka. When he was prime minister in 1989, Rajiv Gandhi sent an Indian peacekeeping force to Sri Lanka to help the government defeat Tamil rebels. The leader of the Tamil rebels, Vellupillai Prabhakaran, has also been indicted in the assassination, but has never been caught. // OPT // After a six-year trial, a special court in Madras approved the death sentences last year. The accused were scheduled to hang in June but two days before their execution, India's Supreme Court agreed to hear their appeal. Friday's ruling upholding the planned execution of four of the 26 came without comment. Rajiv Gandhi was the second member of the Nehru Gandhi family to be assassinated. His mother, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, was killed by her bodyguards in 1984. // END OPT// No execution date has yet been set for the four death row inmates. Only the president of India has the authority to commute their sentences. (Signed) neb/pds/rrm 08-Oct-1999 09:07 AM EDT (08-Oct-1999 1307 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .

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