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Police disperse anti-rape protest

Riot police use a water cannon to disperse a protest in New Delhi over the gang-rape of a 23-year-old student as outrage against the attack grows across India.

Protesters stage a torchlight rally near the Gateway of India to demand capital punishment for rapists during a candlelight vigil in New Delhi.
Protesters stage a torchlight rally near the Gateway of India to demand capital punishment for rapists during a candlelight vigil in New Delhi.

NEW DELHI // Riot police used a water cannon yesterday to disperse a protest in New Delhi over the gang-rape of a 23-year-old student as outrage against the attack grew across India.

The Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, joined his ruling Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi in condemning Sunday night's assault by six drunken men who were joyriding on a bus when they picked up the woman and a male companion.

After taking turns to rape the woman, the attackers then threw the pair off the vehicle. The victim was operated on yesterday and remained on life support. Doctors have been shocked by the extent of the woman's injuries. "They cannot be described in words," a surgeon said.

Four people, including the bus driver, have been arrested, while police are searching for two other suspects.

As the government tried to address the anger with a series of steps, protests spread to other major cities including Mumbai, Kolkata and Ahmedabad.

Police used a water cannon as a group of demonstrators tried to tear down barricades outside the official residence of Delhi's chief minister, Sheila Dikshit.

"Women don't feel safe in the city," said Jayesha Koushik, 18, a student at the protest.

"The blame is always put on the women. 'She was not wearing the right dress, she was out at the wrong time, she must have provoked it'. How can you blame the women for rape?"

"Rapes are happening to teach women a lesson," said Kavita Krishnan of the All India Progressive Women's Association, who was among the protesters.

The Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan wrote on Facebook for "every Indian ... [to] fight such heinous crimes with strength and conviction".

National crime records show that 228,650 of 256,329 violent crimes recorded last year were aimed against women.

Rape cases in India more than doubled between 1990 and 2008. Sunday night's case was the latest in a series of particularly brutal attacks in the capital.

"It's a heinous crime. It is very upsetting," Mr Singh told a parliamentary delegation that met him to discuss the latest attack.

Ms Gandhi described the attack as a source of shame for the capital after a visit to the hospital where the victim is being treated. "Such violence and criminality ... calls for a concerted effort to fight it," she said.

The rape took place over a period of more than 40 minutes on Sunday in a bus that stopped to pick up the two victims who had spent the evening at a cinema.

Three of the suspects appeared before a city magistrate yesterday where their detention was extended.

* With additional reporting by IANS