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Call for death penalty as five men charged with murder of gang rape victim on bus

By Peter Popham in New Delhi

Indian authorities yesterday charged five men with murdering the 23-year-old physiotherapy student who died after being gang-raped on a bus in the city earlier this month.

The men are expected to appear in a newly constituted "fast-track" court where prosecutors will seek the death penalty if they are found guilty.

Bone tests are being carried out on a sixth alleged attacker, who will be tried separately in a juvenile court if the results support the claim that he is 17.

The five were named as bus driver Ram Singh (33); his brother and assistant Mukesh Singh (26); fruit vendor Pavan Gupta (19); bus washer Akshay Singh (24); and fitness trainer Vinay Sharma (20). The next hearing is set to take place tomorrow.

The government will appoint defence lawyers on the suspects' behalf after all 2,500 advocates attached to Delhi's district court refused to represent them. "We have decided that no lawyer will stand up to defend them. It would be immoral to defend the case," said Sanjay Kumar, a lawyer and member of the Saket District Bar Council.

Police said that they did not bring the men to court amid fears over their safety. Public prosecutor Rajiv Mohan has requested that the trial take place behind closed doors.

After police had formally presented their 1,000-page charge sheet, Mr Mohan said that DNA evidence tied all six men to the crime. But despite pressure to name the victim, he asked that her identity remain protected.

Rape victims are granted anonymity under Indian law, but her relatives consented to her identity being revealed. India's junior education minister, Shashi Tharoor, had suggested that a new and far more stringent rape law should be named after her.

Although rapes are numbingly common in India, the national outpouring of grief and rage over the death of the student -- who was raped and beaten for an hour before being thrown out of the still-moving bus -- has shaken the authorities out of their habitually torpid response to such crimes.

Angry protests have been held in several cities including Delhi, where demonstrators clashed with police and demanded that the rapists be hanged. Yesterday the victim's father backed the call, saying: "The juvenile should be punished first. . . he was the one who lured my daughter into the bus and tortured her most mercilessly.''

Officials in the capital have promised to offer more protection to the city's women, with night patrols by police, checks on bus drivers and their assistants, and a ban on buses like the one in which the student was attacked which have curtains or tinted windows.

In an indication of the scale of anger over the Delhi case, nearly 1,800km away on the Bhutan border a group of women were filmed stripping and slapping Bikram Singh Brahma, a Congress party politician whom they claimed had raped a married woman in the village.

He was later detained by police but denies the accusations against him. (© Independent News Service)

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