NEW DELHI – Police in India's capital used tear gas and water cannons Saturday to push back thousands of people who tried to march to the presidential mansion to protest the gang rape and brutal beating of a 23-year-old student on a moving bus.
Some protesters suffered injuries when they repeatedly tried to break through steel barricades in a high-security zone in New Delhi. Police fired tear gas and chased the protesters with sticks, and some of the protesters attacked police with stones during sporadic clashes throughout the day.
The protesters were demanding the death penalty for all the six suspects who have been arrested by police following the Dec. 16 attack in New Delhi.
The government said Friday that it is seeking life sentences for the assailants.
The attack last Sunday sparked days of protests across the country from women demanding authorities take tougher action to protect them against the daily threat of harassment and violence. On Friday, Indian officials announced a broad campaign to protect women in New Delhi.
Some of the protesters Saturday carried placards reading "Save women. Save India" and "Hang the rapists."
V.K. Singh, a retired Indian army chief, joined the protesters and blamed "political and bureaucratic apathy for crimes against women." He demanded immediate police reforms to train and arm security forces.
C.P.N. Singh, a junior home minister, appealed to the demonstrators, who were mostly students, to protest peacefully and avoid vandalizing government property.
"The government is hearing you and taking steps necessary to ensure the safety of women," Singh told reporters.
Ravi Shankar Prasad, a spokesman for the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, however, condemned the police action against the protesters and asked government leaders to talk to them.
Police reinforcements rushed to the area as the crowds of protesters swelled Saturday morning on the lawns near Parliament House. The area is a high-security zone, with the presidential mansion, the prime minister's office and various ministries located there.
The victim and her companion were attacked after getting a ride on a chartered bus. Police said men on the bus gang-raped the woman and beat her and her companion with iron rods as the bus drove through the city for hours, even passing through police checkpoints. The assailants eventually stripped the pair and dumped them on the side of a road.
The victim is recovering from injuries in a New Delhi government hospital.