A high court in southern India has delayed the execution of three men who were convicted of plotting the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi twenty years ago.

The men were scheduled to be hung at a prison in the southern state of Tamil Nadu on Sept. 9 – but after the court stayed the execution, that punishment has been postponed for at least eight weeks.

The High Court (in Chennai) has requested that the central government reply to the petition from the condemned men's attorneys within that time-frame.

Earlier this month, the President of India Pratibha Patil rejected a plea for clemency by the convicted men’s attorneys who asserted that the time taken to decide on the plea – 11 years – was unconstitutional.

The three convicted men - Murugan, T. Suthendra Raja and Perarivalan - were members of the separatist Tamil Tigers group, who were ultimately defeated by Sri Lankan soldiers in 2009.

Reportedly, the three long denied killed Gandhi, but finally expressed “regret” for his death about five years ago.

Nalini Sriharan, an Indian Tamil woman married to Murugan, was also convicted – however, her death sentence was commuted to life in prison in 1999.

According to reports, the Tamil community is disturbed by the order to execute the three men.

On Monday, one Tamil woman committed suicide by setting herself on fire to protest the planned executions.

The Tamil Nadu state assembly has unanimously supported a resolution which demands that the death sentences to be commuted to life imprisonment.

Chief Minister J Jayalalitha said the proposal took into consideration the overwhelming sentiment of the people of Tamil Nadu who want the men's lives spared.

M Karunanidhi, the head of the state's opposition DMK party, has also asked to the central and state governments to spare the men's lives.

Gandhi is believed to have been killed in retaliation for sending an Indian peacekeeping force to Sri Lanka in 1987.

The 46-year-old former Indian Prime Minister was campaigning for his Congress Party in the town of Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu when a powerful bomb, hidden in a flower basket, exploded and killed him instantly.

The bomb also killed at least 14 other people.

Sriperumbudur is about 30 miles from Madras (now called Chennai) the capital of Tamil Nadu.