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Suspects in India tourist gang-rape case appear in court

By Harmeet Shah Singh. Sumnima Udas and Aliza Kassim, CNN
March 18, 2013 -- Updated 2238 GMT (0638 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Police say the six suspects have appeared in court
  • Protesters say state authorities haven't done enough
  • Four men are suspected of raping and robbing a Swiss woman, police say
  • The woman and her husband are recovering at the Swiss Embassy in New Delhi

New Delhi (CNN) -- As the men accused of raping and robbing a Swiss tourist in central India appeared in court Monday, protesters said the case is a troubling example of the growing problem of violence against women.

Opposition lawmakers organized protests throughout India's Madhya Pradesh state Monday and called on the state's home minister to resign.

"We are protesting due to a collapse of law and order," said Ajay Singh, an opposition leader. "This state has the highest number of women abductions and crimes against women."

Demonstrations erupted nationwide after the gang rape of a 23-year-old woman in New Delhi in December. Now last week's attack on a Swiss woman is focusing fresh attention on sexual assaults in India.

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The woman and her husband were on a cycling tour across India and had set up camp near a forest in Datia district last week when a group of men allegedly assaulted them, beating the husband and raping the wife, according to police.

The six suspects appeared in court Monday and will remain in custody until their next court appearance on Tuesday, said Chandra Shekhar Solanke, a district police superintendent.

"We have taken swift action," Shivraj Singh Chauhan, chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, told CNN IBN. "All the accused have been arrested and I assure that we will not allow such cases to happen again."

READ: Trial begins in New Delhi rape case

The men accused of attacking the Swiss couple last week are members of a local tribe who live near where the travelers were camping, said D.K. Arya, deputy inspector general of police.

Investigators have recovered valuables stolen from couple during the attack, police said Monday, including a laptop computer, a mobile phone and 10,000 rupees ($185).

The woman, who was briefly hospitalized after the attack, alleges that four of the men raped her, according to Inspector-General S.M. Afzal. The other two men arrested by police are suspected of involvement in robbing the couple, he said.

READ: 5 men confess to gang-raping Swiss tourist in India

Afzal said the six suspects had confessed. But confessions in custody are not admissible as evidence in Indian courts.

Police have sent blood samples from the men for DNA testing.

Authorities offered different accounts Monday of the next steps in their investigation.

Police Superintendent Solanke said the female victim had already helped identify suspects when arrests were made Sunday.

But Arya, the police deputy inspector-general, said Monday that the victim hadn't seen the suspects since their arrest. She told authorities she would not be able to identify the suspects because the attack happened when it was dark, Arya said.

Instead, her husband will likely be tasked with identifying the suspects in a police lineup, Arya said.

The couple, who had been staying at a guesthouse in Datia district during the investigation, are in New Delhi at the moment, according to Afzal. Police have asked them to return to Datia for a possible identification of the accused men, he said.

READ: Germaine Greer: Guilt poisons women

Linus von Castelmur, the Swiss ambassador to India, issued a statement Monday saying that the two are currently recovering at the embassy in New Delhi but had "expressed their readiness to fully cooperate in the ongoing investigation and identification process."

They plan to stay in India for the time being, he said.

The case comes at a time in India when there are calls for stricter laws on sexual assault and changes in cultural attitudes toward women.

READ: India can learn respect for women

The December gang rape on the New Delhi bus spurred protests in the nation, where most women have stories of sexual harassment and abuse on public transportation or on the streets, according to the Indian Council on Global Relations.

The victim of that attack later died in a Singapore hospital.

READ: Doctor: Young woman gang-raped in India dies

Police charged five men with murder, rape and kidnapping in the case. Last week, one of the accused died in custody.

Police said the accused man, Ram Singh, hanged himself in a jail cell, but his lawyer and parents claim he was murdered.

READ: Autopsy complete on India rape suspect

CNN's Harmeet Shah Singh and Sumnima Udas reported from New Delhi. CNN's Aliza Kassim reported from Atlanta.

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