Protests in India after Delhi gang-rape victim dies

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Media caption,

Sanjoy Majumder reports from a protest in Delhi

Thousands of people have joined peaceful protests in India's capital, Delhi, following the death of a woman who was gang-raped in the city.

The 23-year old woman, who has not been identified, died of her injuries on Saturday in Singapore, where she had been taken for specialist treatment.

Six men arrested in connection with the rape have now been charged with murder.

The attack on 16 December triggered violent public protests over attitudes towards women in India.

Two police officers have already been suspended.

The woman's body will be flown back to India for what is expected to be a private funeral.

On Saturday, police sealed off large parts of central Delhi close to government buildings, closed down a number of metro railway stations and asked people not to travel into the city.

Hundreds of armed police and riot troops are on duty and Delhi's police commissioner Neeraj Kumar has called on the public to remain calm.

Gatherings of more than five people have been banned in the city centre.

But some 4,000 people have gathered at the Jantar Mantar observatory, one of the areas of the city where protests are permitted, said the BBC's Sanjoy Majumder in the city.

A large group staged a silent protest march through Delhi.

One protester, Poonam Kaushik, blamed the attack on "the government's inefficiency to ensure safety of women in Delhi" and said the woman's death would generate "even more anger".

One banner on display told politicians: "We don't want your condolences! We don't want your fake sentiments! We demand immediate action to strengthen the laws against sexual violence."

Delhi's Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit - who has described the death as a "shameful moment" for the country - arrived to speak to the protesters but was shouted down.

Protests have also been held in other cities, including Calcutta, Bangalore and Mumbai.

There has also been an angry reaction in the Indian media, with one editorial in the Times of India calling for wider changes in society and an awareness that as well as attacks on the street, there are "a thousand unheard voices" of women who face sexual violence at home.

Our correspondent says that over the past two weeks, the anonymous woman has became a symbol of a much larger cause than her own, with protesters focusing on the wider issue of how women are treated in India.

Even after her funeral, the sentiment will continue, he adds, with the public pushing the government to take steps to make people feel more confident about the way women are treated.

'Constructive action'

The Mount Elizabeth hospital in Singapore said the woman "passed away peacefully" early on Saturday with her family by her side.

Hospital chief executive Kelvin Loh said she had been in "an extremely critical condition" since arriving there, and had suffered severe organ failure following serious injuries to her body and brain.

The Indian home minister said the government had decided to send the woman abroad for treatment on the recommendation of her doctors.

India's Home Affairs minister, Ratanjit Pratap Narain Singh, said he was "heartbroken" by her death.

"I can only assure the family that the government will take whatever steps are needed to ensure that her killers get the harshest punishment in the quickest of time," he said.

"The government will work overtime to try and bring about laws and steps that will ensure that no other person, no other citizen of this country, has to go through or undergo the same kind of trauma."

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he was "very saddened" by the woman's death, and that the angry public reaction was "perfectly understandable".

"It would be a true homage to her memory if we are able to channel these emotions and energies into a constructive course of action," he said in a statement.

He called on politicians and the public to set aside "narrow sectional interest" and work together to make India "a demonstrably better and safer place for women to live in".

The woman - a medical student - and her friend had been to see a film when they boarded the bus in the Munirka area of Delhi, intending to travel to Dwarka in the south-west of the city.

Police said she was raped for nearly an hour, and both she and her companion were beaten with iron bars, then thrown out of the moving bus into the street.

The assault sparked angry protests about the general conditions for women in India, and about what is seen as an inadequate police response to rape allegations.

Media caption,

India's High Commissioner to Singapore, TCA Raghavan: "We extend our condolences to the family"

Officials have since announced a series of measures intended to make Delhi safer for women.

These include more police night patrols, checks on bus drivers and their assistants, and the banning of buses with tinted windows or curtains.

The government has also said that it will post the photos, names and addresses of convicted rapists on official websites to shame them.

It has set up two committees - one looking into speeding up trials of cases involving sexual assaults on women, and the other to examine the lapses that might have led to the incident in Delhi.

But the protesters say the government's pledge to seek life sentences for the attackers is not enough - many are calling for the death penalty.