India to hang ex-PM Rajiv Gandhi’s LTTE killers

Rajiv Gandhi (FILE)

India's president has rejected the mercy pleas of three men convicted for the 1991 assassination of then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, paving the way for their execution, an official told AFP on Thursday.

"The rejection (of the clemency petitions) happened last week after the president returned from a foreign tour," presidential spokeswoman Archana Datta told AFP.

The appeal sent to President Pratibha Patil by the three -- Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan, all known by single names -- were their last hope of escaping the hangman's noose.

The condemned men, who belonged to Sri Lanka's Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) militant group, are charged with plotting the May 21, 1991 killing of Gandhi by a woman suicide bomber.

The Supreme Court in 1999 confirmed the death sentences of the three men, but commuted the capital punishment to life in prison for Nalini Sriharan, an Indian Tamil woman who was also convicted.

The three men sought a presidential pardon after the top court's verdict.

A woman with explosives strapped to her body blew herself up, killing Gandhi instantly while he was on an election tour in the southern Indian town of Sriperumbudur.

The LTTE, wiped out by Sri Lankan forces following a bloody offensive by government troops on the island in 2009, denied its hand in Gandhi's assassination.

Rajiv's mother, former premier Indira Gandhi, was also assassinated in October 1984. One of the surviving killers was hanged.

The last execution in India was in 2004 when a 41-year-old former security guard was hanged for the rape and murder of a 14-year-old schoolgirl.

In May this year, however, President Patil unexpectedly rejected a mercy petition from a murderer in the northeastern state of Assam, leaving the state scrabbling to find a hangman.

Many of the small number of known hangmen nationwide have either died or retired in recent years.

India searches for hangman

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