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India Hanging Postponed

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New Delhi, February 21, 2013 - India's Supreme Court on Wednesday extended a stay on the hanging of four death-row convicts by six months after rights groups voiced growing concern over recent executions in the country.

The lawyer for the four accomplices of slain "bandit king" Veerappan who were sentenced to death in 2004 for a deadly blast in southern India had approached the Supreme Court because he believed their executions were imminent.

Colin Gonsalve has said he is seeking to have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment "for the mental distress they have suffered during the inordinate eight-year delay in deciding on their mercy plea".

But the court on Wednesday said another Supreme Court bench was hearing a similar case to that of the four men and it would await its ruling.

"We adjourn the hearing of this matter for six months to enable another bench to deliver the judgment in another pending matter," the court said.

The Supreme Court rulings could be precedent-setting for many other inmates who have been lingering on India's death row for years, lawyers have said.

President Pranab Mukherjee last week rejected the mercy plea of the four accomplices of Veerappan being held in Belgaum jail in Karnataka state.

The four were convicted of setting a landmine explosion that killed 22 policemen.

Executions in India are only carried out in "rarest of rare" cases.

But Mukherjee, recently elected president, has rejected a number of mercy pleas in the last few months, ending an informal eight-year moratorium on executions.

"This government has executed more people since November 2012 than in the previous 10 years. To continue such a regressive trend would be truly shameful," said G Ananthapadmanabhan, chief executive of Amnesty International India.

Earlier this month Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri separatist convicted of involvement in a 2001 raid on the Indian parliament, was executed.

The lone surviving gunman from the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Pakistani-born Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, was hanged last November in the nation's first execution since 2004.

Veerappan, accused of over 100 killings, died in a police ambush in 2004 after evading capture for decades.

He was believed to have amassed a vast fortune from elephant poaching, sandalwood smuggling and kidnappings.- AFP

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