India

India gang-rape: Five suspects charged in Delhi

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Media captionPeople on the streets of Delhi have begun to arm themselves with pepper spray and stun guns, as the BBC's Andrew North reports

Indian authorities have charged five men with the kidnap, gang rape and murder of a woman in Delhi last month.

The 23-year-old died of her injuries two weeks after the 16 December attack.

The five men will be tried in a fast-track court, where they could be handed the death penalty. A sixth suspect is likely to be tried in a juvenile court.

The incident sparked outrage across India - the victim's father said he backed calls for the men to be executed if found guilty.

"The whole country is demanding that these monsters be hanged. I am with them," he told reporters at his home in Uttar Pradesh state.

Neither the woman nor her family can be identified under Indian law.

The charges were put before a magistrate but will be transferred to a specially launched fast-track court.

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Media captionFather: ''She whispered, mummy I am sorry... I am sorry''

The trial is expected to start at the weekend.

Although it is mandatory in India for the accused to appear in person to be charged, policemen outside the court said the suspects, who include the driver of the bus, would not be present on Thursday for security reasons.

Case documents already run to more than 1,000 pages and include key testimony from the woman before she died.

Police say they have scheduled about 30 witnesses.

The Bar Association said none of its members was willing to defend the suspects, so the court is expected to appoint defence lawyers itself.

India's chief justice has warned that, despite the strength of public feeling, "a swift trial should not be at the cost of a fair trial".

"Let us not lose sight of the fact that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty," Altamas Kabir told reporters on Wednesday.

Daily protests

Protests have been taking place every day since the attack, with protesters expressing anger over attitudes to women in India and calling for changes to the laws on violence against women.

They say women across India are frequently subjected to harassment and sexual assault, that reports of crimes against women are not taken seriously and that conviction rates are too low.

The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder in Delhi says this is far from the first such crime to make the news, but that is has touched a raw nerve with the public and could become a watershed case.

On Wednesday, Delhi's Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit joined thousands of women on a protest march through Delhi to Rajghat and called for stringent anti-rape laws.

India's Junior Education Minister Shashi Tharoor has suggested a new anti-rape law should be named after the victim.

The woman's family have said they would have no objection to such a move.

The woman and a male friend had been to the cinema when they boarded a private bus home in the evening.

Police have said the men on the bus had been drinking and were taking the vehicle on a joyride.

They beat the woman and her companion with iron bars, raped her for nearly an hour and then threw them out of the moving bus into the street, say police.

The Press Trust of India quoted police sources as saying the driver of the bus had tried to run her over after throwing her out, but that she was saved by her friend.

She sustained serious injuries to her body and brain and died on 29 December in a hospital in Singapore, where she had been flown for specialist treatment.

Helpline launched

Image caption A local politician in Assam state was attacked after being accused of raping a woman

Delhi officials have responded to criticism that they are failing to protect women by announcing a series of measures intended to make the city safer.

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 set up a committee under a retired Supreme Court judge to recommend changes to the anti-rape law.

A telephone helpline has been launched for women in distress, connected with police stations across the city.

In what has been seen as an indication of the growing public anger about sexual violence, footage was broadcast on national television on Thursday showing an attack on a member of the ruling Congress party in north-eastern Assam state who had been accused of raping a young woman.

The video showed a crowd of women surrounding the man, stripping him and hitting him before handing him over to police.

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