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Police crackdown amid outrage over gang rape

By Harmeet Shah Singh, CNN
January 4, 2013 -- Updated 1128 GMT (1928 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin is due visit India Monday
  • New Delhi's government district is under a lockdown
  • Protesters demonstrate after the gang rape of a woman on a bus
  • Police say the woman was badly beaten and left for dead

New Delhi (CNN) -- Police locked down New Delhi's key government district ahead of Monday's visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin, after two days of pitched street battles following the gang rape of a woman on a bus.

Putin is scheduled to meet with Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh Monday afternoon and later with the Indian president.

Authorities erected security barriers throughout the city's Raisina Hills area -- home to the presidential mansion, the parliament building and federal ministerial blocks. Only those authorized to work in the district were allowed to pass.

Surviving rape, iReporters speak out

Furious weekend demonstrations rocked Raisina Hills as public outrage surged after a 23-year-old woman was sexually assaulted and beaten to near death on a bus on December 16 by a group of six suspects, now under arrest, police say.

Read: Perils of being a woman in India

Singh again expressed solidarity with the rape victim in a televised address on Monday. He also reiterated an earlier appeal for calm and a pledge of safety for women and children.

An Indian activist gets his head shaven in protest against the Dehli gang-rape in New Delhi on Friday, January 4. A gang of men is accused of repeatedly raping a 23-year-old student on a moving bus in New Delhi. Police formally charged the five suspects with rape, kidnapping and murder after the woman died. An Indian activist gets his head shaven in protest against the Dehli gang-rape in New Delhi on Friday, January 4. A gang of men is accused of repeatedly raping a 23-year-old student on a moving bus in New Delhi. Police formally charged the five suspects with rape, kidnapping and murder after the woman died.
India rape protests
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On Sunday, incensed protesters defied a police ban on demonstrations, clashing repeatedly with police.

As officers sprayed water cannons, some dispersed, while others huddled tightly in a circle to brave high-pressure streams in the cold December weather.

"We want justice!" the protesters shouted in chorus.

Read more: New Delhi police fire water cannon at Indian rape protest

In addition to banners and cardboard placards, many demonstrators carried Indian flags as they scuffled with police. Authorities also fired tear gas to try to break up crowds.

Police spokesman Rajan Bhagat said "hooligans who had joined the protesters" hurled stones, injuring 78 officers on Sunday. At least 65 protesters were also injured, he said.

Many police vans and a dozen public buses were damaged during the demonstrations, he said.

Read more: Indian prime minister calls for calm after violence erupts during anti-rape rallies

By Sunday night, the scene was cleared of all protesters.

Earlier in the day, Singh called for calm after clashes escalated.

"We will make all possible efforts to ensure security and safety to all women in this country," the Indian leader said. "I appeal to all concerned citizens to maintain peace and calm."

In his statement, Singh acknowledged that the anger is "genuine and justified."

Read more: Opinion: India's rape problem needs a rewiring of society's attitude

Authorities haven't released the name of the rape victim, but protesters are calling her "Damini," which means "lightning" in Hindi.

"Damini" is also a 1993 Bollywood film whose lead female character fights for a housemaid, a victim of a sexual assault.

"We support you Damini. We'll keep fighting for you," a middle-aged woman at the historic India Gate said Sunday. "Damini wants justice," read a placard at the protest.

The rape victim's injuries were so severe she spent days in intensive care in a city hospital, battling for her life. Police said Saturday that she had recovered enough to give a statement to a magistrate from her hospital bed the night before.

But on Sunday, she underwent another surgery to wash out infection in her abdomen, her doctors said.

The protests were among many anti-rape demonstrations staged across the country over the past week.

A video journalist was killed by police gunfire Sunday during a violent protest in India's remote northeastern state of Manipur, authorities said.

The journalist, identified by the information and broadcasting ministry as Dhij Mani, was covering a protest against a separate molestation case in the provincial capital of Imphal.

Protests have rocked Manipur over the alleged molestation of a local actress by a suspected militant on December 18, during a public performance, authorities say.

Protesters torched a vehicle, forcing police to open fire, officer Manik Longjam said Sunday.

The journalist died in the gunfire, Longjam said.

Police say the molester is still at large.

Reported rape cases have increased more than tenfold over the past 40 years -- from 2,487 in 1971 to 24,206 in 2011, according to official figures.

New Delhi alone reported 572 rapes last year and more than 600 in 2012.

As fury about the assault gathered pace, some Indian lawmakers called for treating rape as a capital crime.

"We'll work collectively to see we make a law which is deterrent and preventive," said New Delhi's chief minister, Sheila Dikshit.

India's home minister Sushilkumar Shinde told reporters Saturday that the government would work toward increasing punishment in "rarest of the rare" rape cases.

But pressed on whether the administration would agree to demands for death by hanging in such instances, he said: "We'll have to see in what way it (the rape sentencing) can be enhanced."

Shinde said the government was pushing for a speedy trial for the attack.

Authorities are also taking a number of steps to improve security for women in New Delhi, particularly on public transport, he said.

"(The) government shares the widespread concern and support that has been expressed throughout society for the girl who has so suffered. Government also respects the right of legitimate protest," Shinde said.

"At the same time, there is need to exercise calm at this juncture and for everyone to work together to improve the safety and security environment."

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