Six held over India rape of Swiss woman

Five hooded suspects during a press meeting in Datia Police say the suspects belong to a local tribe

Police in India's Madhya Pradesh state have arrested six people in connection with the gang rape of a Swiss tourist.

The men appeared before a local magistrate and were remanded in custody to return to court on Tuesday.

The woman was attacked with her husband as they camped in woodland near a village in Datia district on Friday.

The arrests came as India's politicians prepared to debate a new law against rape, after the outcry over the fatal assault on a Delhi student last year.

The attack on the 23-year-old, on a bus in the city, triggered widespread protests against the treatment of women in India and sparked demands for tougher laws.

Reported cases of sexual assault are on the rise in India, although foreign tourists are rarely targeted.

The Swiss woman's case has caused particular alarm.

'Local tribe'

After visiting the popular tourist destination of Orchha in Madhya Pradesh the Swiss couple had cycled some 80km (50 miles) and stopped to camp for the night in a remote and isolated area near a dense forest in Datia district.

It is not a place frequented by tourists and is not a camping area, locals say.

This is not the first time a Swiss citizen has been raped in India.

In 2003, a 28-year-old Swiss diplomat was forced into her car by two men in the capital, Delhi, and raped by one of them. The rapist was never caught.

Foreign tourist arrivals have risen steadily in India - nearly 20 million visited in 2011, compared with 14.4 million in 2009.

There is no evidence to show that rapes have led to a decline in tourist arrivals in the past.

But the latest attack is a huge embarrassment for India after the international outrage over the December gang rape of a student in Delhi.

Police spokesman Dilip Arya said the six men accused of Friday's attack in Madhya Pradesh were aged between 20 and 25, and belonged to a local tribe.

Twenty more people were being questioned in connection with the case, local police official SM Afzal told the BBC.

The couple have been receiving medical treatment in Delhi and are helping police with their investigation.

"They will continue to stay in India for the moment," a Swiss embassy statement said.

On Sunday, a senior police official denied media reports that the suspects had confessed to their involvement in the crime.

The victim, who is reported to be 39 years old, and her husband had been cycling from Orchha to Agra, to see the Taj Mahal, a distance of about 250km (155 miles), when they decided to camp for the night in a forested area.

One report cited the victim's husband as saying that the group of men had approached them at about 21:30 (16:00 GMT). They then began beating him with wooden sticks before tying him up and sexually assaulting his wife in front of him, he is reported to have said.

The assailants stole the couple's valuables, including 10,000 rupees ($185), a laptop computer and a mobile phone, before fleeing into the woods. Police said they had recovered the phone and the laptop from one of the suspects, Associated Press reports.

Meanwhile, India's political parties are taking part in previously scheduled meetings to discuss harsher punishment for rapists, including the death penalty. They will also consider lowering the age of consent for sex to 16.

Critics say the bill is being watered down to ensure its passage and that more needs to be done to change attitudes towards women, the BBC's Andrew North in Delhi reports.

Earlier, the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh said the Swiss couple were partly to blame - because they had not told the authorities where they were going.

Last month, India's government introduced new rape laws in an ordinance.

A bill or bills with these laws must be tabled during the current session of parliament. If the bill is not passed, the ordinance will lapse.

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