Chennai: Ten days before their hanging, three Rajiv Gandhi killers on Tuesday got a reprieve from the Madras High Court which stayed their execution for eight weeks even as the Tamil Nadu assembly in an unprecedented unanimous resolution appealed to the President to reconsider their mercy pleas.

Stopping the execution set for September 9, a bench comprising justices C Nagappan and M Sathayanarayanan issued notices to the Centre, the state government and the police, observing that there had been a delay of over 11 years in the disposal of their petitions seeking Presidential clemency.

Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan, lodged in Vellore Jail, were convicted and sentenced to death in the case relating to the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi during an election rally at Sriperumpudur on May 21, 1991 by an LTTE suicide bomber.

"The High Court is doing justice. Be sure. They have stayed the execution," Ram Jethmalani, who pleaded their case, told reporters after the court's interim order.

Jethmalani, Colin Gonsalves and R Vaigai, appearing for the three convicts, contended the "inordinate and inexplainable delay" in disposing of their mercy petitions violated Article 21 of the Constitution (Protection of life and personal liberty).

Shortly before the High Court order came, the assembly unanimously adopted the resolution moved by Jayalalithaa requesting President Pratibha Patil to reconsider the mercy petitions rejected early this month.

Jayalalithaa's move came a day after she made it clear that she has no powers to grant them pardon. DMK and some other parties have been vigorously campaigning for getting reprieve for the three.

Jayalalithaa said the people of the state were "saddened" by the fact that the death sentence was to be executed soon.

"Many political parties have appealed to me to commute death sentences and in order to respect the sentiments of the people of the state, I appeal to the members of the house to pass the resolution unanimously," she said.

MDMK leader Vaiko, who has been strongly pleading for the release of the three, welcomed the court order.

Murugan's daughter Harithra, studying in London, said, "It (reprieve) means a lot to me. I have applied for a visa and expecting it in 15 days to travel to India."

In Delhi, Law Minister Salman Khurshid said the assembly resolution was not binding on anybody.

"The state government resolution is not binding on anyone. The state government passes a resolution... I am sure that at the level at which it must be taken seriously and considered it will be taken," Khurshid told reporters outside Parliament House in reply to a question.

Several political leaders and pro-Tamil activists have said the men have now served more than 20 years in prison, and do not deserve the death sentence.

The three convicts were sentenced to death in 1999, along with Nalini, who is married to Murugan. After Nalini gave birth to a baby girl in jail, her death sentence was commuted to life following a request made by Sonia Gandhi.

Political parties welcome HC order

Political parties in Tamil Nadu welcomed the Madras High Court order staying the execution of the three convicts in Rajiv Gandhi assassination case and adoption of a resolution by the state assembly appealing to the President to reconsider their mercy pleas.

Welcoming the court order and the resolution, CPI put on hold its proposed fast on September 3 to press its demand for commutation of the death sentence of Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan.

CPI state Secretary D Pandian in a statement thanked Chief Minister Jayalalithaa and members of the assembly for passing the resolution requesting President Pratibha Patil to reconsider the clemency petitions of the three convicts, which she (the President) had recently rejected.

Principal opposition in the assembly DMDK welcomed the adoption of the "unanimous resolution".

Taking a dig at DMK chief M Karunanidhi's remarks on Monday that had Rajiv Gandhi been alive, "he would have saved the lives of the three persons," Deputy leader of DMDK Legislature Party Panruti S Ramachandran said in the assembly "if Gandhi was alive, the case itself would not have arisen."

MDMK leader Vaiko, who has been in the forefront of the campaign for commuting the death sentence of the three, said the entire Tamil community was "rejoicing" over the High Court order and thanked Jayalalithaa for her initiative in the assembly.

PMK also welcomed the state government's move for passing the special resolution in the assembly.

"However, this is only the first step. The Chief Minister has to call for a cabinet meeting and pass the resolution and then meet the Governor and hand it over," PMK founder S Ramadoss said in a statement.

Puthiya Thamizhagam President K Krishnasamy while thanking Jayalalithaa in the assembly, compared her to Mother Teresa, saying she had saved the lives of the three Tamils.

Film director and founder leader of a pro-Eelam outfit Seeman told reporters that the court order was a victory for democracy and justice and thanked Jayalalithaa for moving the resolution.

Six held for self-immolation bid

Meanwhile, six activists of a Tamils outfit were arrested in neighbouring Tirupur on Tuesday when they tried to commit self-immolation in the district court premises demanding commutation of the death sentence awarded to three convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.

The activists of 'Adi Tamilar Jananayaka Peravai' made a sudden appearance at the scene where a group of lawyers were staging a demonstration over the issue and poured kerosene over themselves, police said.

However, police overpowered them and took them into custody, they said.

Elsewhere, a group of students of Government Law College in Coimbatore were arrested when they attempted to lay seige of the Passport Seva Kendra in Peelamdeu locality, police said.

JPN/Agencies