Woman arrested in Gandhi's killing

May 28, 1991|By Robert Benjamin | Robert Benjamin,Sun Staff Correspondent

NEW DELHI — An article in yesterday's editions of The Sun incorrectly reported that Monday was the 31st anniversary of the death of Indian leader Jawaharlal Nehru. In fact, Nehru died 27 years ago.

NEW DELHI -- Indian police said yesterday that they have arrested a suspected accomplice in the assassination last week of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

The police said the woman was being questioned but declined to provide details about the interrogation.

They said the woman, identified as a 30-year-old, Sri Lankan Tamil named Vasanthi, was taken into custody Sunday night at a bus stop in the southern city of Cuddalore, roughly 90 miles south of where Mr. Gandhi was murdered by a bomb blast at a campaign rally.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Despite its denials, a Tamil separatist group that has been waging a guerrilla war in Sri Lanka has been all but formally accused of plotting the assassination of Mr. Gandhi last Tuesday night.

The group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, has a reputation for using sophisticated explosives and forming suicide squads.

At first, the LTTE was covertly supported by India. But four years ago, during Mr. Gandhi's term as prime minister, he sent the Indian army into Sri Lanka as a peace-keeping force, and troops clashed with Tamil guerrillas before withdrawing in 1989.

Yesterday's reports said Sunday's arrest was based on an eyewitness's description of a woman who accompanied the alleged assassin. The suspect is to be brought before witnesses today for possible identification.

Most previous reports on the investigation into the bomb blast, which killed at least 14 others, have focused on an unidentified woman who died in the explosion. This woman is believed to have carried the explosives, possibly in a belt.

Another report over the weekend said Indian police are looking for a third person, a man who was with the dead woman before the explosion and who was posing as a journalist.

Meanwhile, the ashes of Mr. Gandhi's cremated body left New Delhi yesterday under heavy security on a special train for the city of Allahabad.

There, the ashes were to be kept for one day at the ancestral home of his grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister. Yesterday was the 31st anniversary of Mr. Nehru's death.

Today, the ashes were to be immersed in the "sangam," a sacred spot at Allahabad marking the confluence of India's three holy rivers, the Ganges, the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati.

Mr. Gandhi's once-dominant but now-troubled Congress Party remains stymied in its effort to appoint his successor with the continued refusal of his Italian-born widow, Sonia Gandhi, to agree to party elders' request last week to take up the post.

If that request was aimed at capitalizing on voters' sympathies when India's national elections resume in two weeks, the strategy now seems to be unraveling with the growing image of a party so torn by dissension that it cannot settle on a leader.

But the Congress Party may announce its choice of an interim party president as early as tomorrow.

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