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Relatives 'Rescue' Two Iran Bank Robbers From Gallows

TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Relatives of two Iranian bank robbers started hurling stones during their execution today and in the ensuing confusion "stole the bodies" of the men, who later turned out to be still alive, state radio reported.

But the stay of execution was not expected to last long -- the condemned men were taken back into custody soon afterwards, the radio said.

ISNA news agency, quoting a court official in the southeastern province of Kerman, said the executions would resume later today. Four people responsible for the escape would be put on trial, it said.

State radio said the two men, from the city of Sirjan, were sentenced to death for armed bank robbery. Iranian executions usually take place by hanging inside prisons.

"The situation in the execution area became tense as a result of the large number of relatives of the two who had gathered there, and they went on stoning the area at the time of the verdicts' implementation," state radio said.

"In the ensuing confusion, the convicts' relatives stole the bodies of the two," it added.

Murder, adultery, rape, armed robbery, apostasy, and drug trafficking are all punishable by death under Iran's Shari'a law, practiced since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Amnesty International listed Iran as the world's second most prolific executioner in 2008 after China, and says it put to death at least 346 people last year.