India gang-rape suspects to face murder charges

Indian schoolgirls hold placards during a prayer ceremony to mourn the death of a 23-year-old gang rape victim, at a school in Ahmadabad, India, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012. Shocked Indians on Saturday were mourning the death of the woman who was gang-raped and beaten on a bus in New Delhi nearly two weeks ago in an ordeal that galvanized people to demand greater protection for women from sexual violence. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)
Ajit Solanki

(CBS/AP) NEW DELHI - Indian police charged six men with murder on Saturday, hours after a woman who was gang-raped and beaten on a bus in New Delhi nearly two weeks ago died in a Singapore hospital.

New Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat said the six face the death penalty if convicted, in a case that has triggered protests across India for greater protection for women from sexual violence, and raised questions about lax attitudes by police toward sexual crimes.

As the body of the 23-year-old student was being readied for the flight from Singapore back to India, police sealed off parts of the capital, New Delhi, and braced for more angry demonstrations like the ones last week, when thousands of Indians - most of them young and furious - poured into the streets to protest against the gang rape of the student.

Workers from a Hindu casket service unload the body of the young Indian woman who was gang-raped in New Delhi, to be embalmed on Saturday Dec. 29, 2012 in Singapore. The woman who was gang-raped and severely beaten on a bus in New Delhi died Saturday at the hospital. AP Photo/Wong Maye-E

They were also protesting against rape in general which, they say, often goes unpunished - or the victims are blamed, says correspondent Elizabeth Palmer.

To help restore calm, a clearly rattled Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had to make a statement on national TV.

"I assure you that we will make all possible efforts to ensure security and safety of women in this country," said Singh.

He said he was aware of the emotions the attack has stirred, adding it was up to all Indians to ensure that the young woman's death will not have been in vain.

Widespread public outrage means all eyes are on the police inquiry into the December 16 gang rape, which occurred when the victim and her male friend were picked up by six men joyriding on a bus.

The victim "passed away peacefully" early Saturday at Mount Elizabeth hospital in Singapore with her family and officials of the Indian Embassy by her side, Dr. Kevin Loh, the chief executive of the hospital, said in a statement.

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After 10 days at a hospital in New Delhi, the Indian capital, the woman was brought Thursday to Mount Elizabeth, which specializes in multi-organ transplants. Loh said the woman had been in extremely critical condition since Thursday, and by late Friday her condition had taken a turn for the worse, with her vital signs deteriorating.

"Despite all efforts by a team of eight specialists in Mount Elizabeth hospital to keep her stable, her condition continued to deteriorate over these two days," Loh said. "She had suffered from severe organ failure following serious injuries to her body and brain. 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."

The woman and a male friend, who have not been identified, were on a bus in New Delhi after watching a film on the evening of Dec. 16 when they were attacked by six men who raped her. The men beat the couple and inserted an iron rod into the woman's body, resulting in severe organ damage. Both were then stripped and thrown off the bus, according to police.

Indian police have arrested six people in connection with the attack, which left the victim with severe internal injuries, a lung infection and brain damage. She also suffered from a heart attack while in the hospital in New Delhi.

Indian High Commissioner, or ambassador, T.C.A. Raghavan told reporters that the scale of the injuries the woman suffered was "very grave" and in the end "proved too much."

He said arrangements were being made to return her body to India later Saturday.

The frightening nature of the crime shocked Indians, who have come out in the thousands for almost daily demonstrations.

As news of the victim's death reached New Delhi early Saturday, hundreds of policemen sealed off the high-security India Gate area, where the seat of India's government is located, in anticipation of more protests. The area is home to the president's palace, the prime minister's office and key defense, external affairs and home ministries.

The area had seen battles between protesters and police for days after the attack.

Ten metro stations in the vicinity also were closed Saturday, Bhagat said.

Police were allowing people to assemble at the Jantar Mantar and Ramlila grounds, the main areas allotted for protests in New Delhi, he said.