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Protests

Peaceful protests in India after death of rape victim

Candlelit vigils have been held throughout India following the death of a 23-year-old medical student whose gang rape in New Delhi caused two weeks of protest. The six suspects face a preliminary hearing on Thursday.

Thousands of police were deployed across India's capital on Saturday following the death of the unnamed medical student. Authorities closed 10 metro stations and banned vehicles from several main roads in the city amid fears of further violent protests.

Hundreds of people are gathered at two locations in the heart of the city, although the day's protests have so far remained peaceful. Prayers and candlelight marches were also held across the country including Mumbai, Bangalore and Calcutta.

India mourns death of 23-year-old rape victim

Protesters have staged daily demonstrations about the treatment of women in India since the woman was raped and beaten by six men on a bus in the city before being thrown from the moving vehicle two weeks ago.

The woman was being treated for her injuries at Singapore's Mount Elizabeth Hospital. The hospital announced her death in the early hours of Saturday morning.

"She had suffered from severe organ failure following serious injuries to her body and brain," Kelvin Loh, the chief executive of Singapore's Mount Elizabeth Hospital, said in a statement. "She was courageous in fighting for her life for so long against the odds but the trauma to her body was too severe for her to overcome."

India's high commissioner in Singapore T.C.A. Raghavan told news agency AFP a chartered plane carrying the unnamed woman's remains were on their way back to India.

Six men have been arrested and are to be formally charged with the woman's rape, assault and murder on Thursday when their trial, before a special prosecutor, will begin, Delhi Police spokesman Rajan Bhagat said.

The trial is set to take place in a fast-track court, he added. "It will be our endeavour to ensure the harshest punishment in the book to the culprits."

As police announced the prospect of the six accused possibly facing the death penalty, should they be convicted, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called for calm across the country to prevent a repeat of the often violent protests that followed the December 16 assault.

Call for social change

Gang-rapes are a daily occurrence in India and many go unreported. Social activists say governments do little to ensure the safety of women and most perpetrators go unpunished.

Responding to the woman's death in a statement on Saturday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that social change in India was needed.

"The need of the hour is a dispassionate debate and inquiry into the critical changes that are required in societal attitudes," the prime minister said.

"I hope that the entire political class and civil society will set aside narrow sectional interests and...help us all reach the end that we all desire - making India a demonstrably better and safer place for women to live in."

On Friday, the chief minister of West Bengal state, Mamata Banerjee, pledged 65 all-female police stations dealing with crimes against women. She said that ten of them were already up and running.

jlw,ccp/jm (dpa,AFP, Reuters)

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