World leaders condemned the 'senseless' assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi Wednesday and said her death would leave a 'big emptiness' in international affairs. But Sikhs set off fireworks and hailed the death of the woman they called 'India's Hitler.'
Gandhi, 66, was murdered Wednesday in a volley of bullets by two bodyguards as she walked from her residence to her nearby office to meet British actor Peter Ustinov. Her killers, members of the Sikh faith, were shot by other members of her security force. One died while another was taken into custody.
'This despicable act has robbed India of a great and courageous leader, daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru ... We shall all feel the loss of her wise counsel and deep humanity,' British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher told Parliament.
Thatcher, who narrowly escaped assassination three weeks ago by an IRA bomb that left four people dead, was expected to attend Gandhi's funeral Saturday.
In Moscow, Soviet President Chernenko sent condolences to Gandhi's son Rajiv, who had been groomed to succeed his mother and was sworn in as India's sixth prime minister. Chernenko urged continued warm relations between the countries.
'The Soviet people learned with pain and sorrow about the untimely death in a villainous assassination of the glorious daughter of the great Indian people ... a fiery fighter for peace and security of peoples and a great friend of the Soviet Union,' Chernenko said.
The Tass news agency reported the killing in unusually swift fashion and without comment, although it carried charges of U.S. interference in Indian affairs in other stories.
President Reagan, awakened at 3 a.m. EST with the news, expressed his 'shock, revulsion, and grief' over the assassination.
'Her senseless murder serves as a vivid reminder of the terrorist threat we all confront,' Reagan said in a written statement. 'We must therefore renew our determination to overcome this threat and ensure that Prime Minister Gandhi's accomplishments and memory will serve as an inspiration for humanity.'
Reagan and Secretary of State George Shultz, visited the Indian Embassy to sign a book of condolences and talk with Indian Ambassador K.S. Bajpai. Reagan tapped Shultz to attend the funeral.
Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale called Gandhi 'a great leader of a great democracy' and deplored 'this shocking act of violence.'
Asian, African and European leaders mourned Gandhi as a great champion of democracy and leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, which includes more than 100 nations.
Yugoslavia, which along with India and Egypt helped found the movement more than 20 years ago, expressed its 'deepest grief' and called the killing a 'terrorist' act.
The death of Gandhi, who became chairwoman of the movement last year, has left a 'big emptiness in the international scene,' said Yugoslav President Veselin Djuranovic.
China, India's northern neighbor, hailed Gandhi for efforts to improve the sometimes tense relations between the two countries.
South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan, in a cable to Indian President Zail Singh, said Gandhi's death meant the 'loss of a great leader to the whole world.'
Ironically, Chun was scheduled to visit India to meet Gandhi in October 1983 but cancelled after narrowly escaping assassination in a bombing in Rangoon, Burma, which killed 17 South Korean officials.
Pakistani President Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haz praised Gandhi for 'her valuable contributions to the normalization of relations' between the neighboring nations, which have fought three wars since gaining independence from Britain in 1947. Zia ordered a three-day official mourning for Gandhi.
Italian President Sandro Pertini condemned 'this inhuman form of political struggle' while French President Francois Mitterrand said the Third World lost a 'champion of its rights.'
At the United Nations, the GeneralAssembly paused in its work as shocked delegates mourned the death. Assembly President Paul Lusaka of Zambia postponed a scheduled debate and hastily organized a memorial meeting.
Pope John Paul II, at the Vatican, called the killing a sad new link 'to a chain of atrocities that brings bloodshed to the world.'
Members of the Sikh faith, an offshoot of Hinduism with some 12 million members in India, had varied reactions.
A spokesman for the World Sikh Organization in Los Angeles reacted with glee, saying 'the whole nation of Sikhs is rejoicing.
'We are ecstatic,' said spokesman Amrit Singh. 'Justice has been done by God's grace by the shooting down of Indira Gandhi. She was India's Hitler.'
In London, scores of chanting Sikhs outside a Sikh temple distributed candy and set off fireworks to celebrate the assassination, witnesses said.
Sikhs at the rally said the death was a 'victory' that will lead to the establishment of an independent Sikh nation in northern India, where most of the nation's Sikhs live.
In Singapore, however, the leader of the Sikh community said moderate Sikhs received the news 'with shock.'
'It is unfortunate for India and Indians all over the world,' said J.S. Sehgal. 'Even though they may have political differences among themselves, the killing is not a solution to any problem.'