SINGAPORE/NEW DELHI (Reuters) - An Indian woman whose gang rape in New Delhi triggered violent protests died of her injuries on Saturday in a Singapore hospital, bringing a security lockdown in Delhi and recognition from India's prime minister that social change is needed.
The Indian capital braced for a new wave of protests, closing metro stations and banning vehicles from the city centre district where young activists had converged to demand improved women's rights. The news came in the early hours of the morning in India and there were no signs of protests as morning broke.
The 23-year-old medical student, severely beaten, raped and thrown out of a moving bus in New Delhi two weeks ago, had been flown to Singapore in a critical condition by the Indian government on Thursday for specialist treatment.
"We are very sad to report that the patient passed away peacefully at 4:45 a.m. on Dec 29, 2012 (2045 GMT Friday). Her family and officials from the High Commission (embassy) of India were by her side," Mount Elizabeth Hospital Chief Executive Officer Kelvin Loh said in a statement.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a statement he was deeply saddened by the death and described the emotions associated with her case as "perfectly understandable reactions from a young India and an India that genuinely desires change.
"It would be a true homage to her memory if we are able to channelize these emotions and energies into a constructive course of action."
Delhi's Chief Minister, Sheila Dikshit, expressed revulsion.
"It is a shameful moment for me not just as a chief minister but also as a citizen of this country," she said.
The woman, who has not been identified, and a male friend were returning home from the cinema by bus on the evening of December 16 when, media reports say, six men on the bus beat them with metal rods and repeatedly raped the woman. The reports say a rod was used in the rape, causing internal injuries. Both were thrown from the bus. The male friend survived the attack.
Singh's government has been battling criticism that it was tone-deaf to the outcry that followed the attack and was heavy handed in its response to the protests in the Indian capital.
Most rapes and other sex crimes in India go unreported and offenders are rarely punished, women's rights activists say. But the brutality of the December 16 assault sparked public outrage and calls for better policing and harsher punishment for rapists.
VEHICLES BARRED FROM DELHI CITY CENTRE
T.C.A. Raghavan, the Indian High Commissioner to Singapore, told reporters hours after the woman's death that a chartered aircraft would fly her body back to India on Saturday, along with members of her family. The woman's body had earlier been loaded into a van at the hospital and driven away.
In New Delhi, the Joint Commissioner of Traffic Police, Satyendra Garg, told NDTV news channel that residents and commuters were advised to avoid the city centre.
The case has received blanket coverage on cable television news channels. Some Indian media have called the woman "Amanat", an Urdu word meaning "treasure".
Talking to reporters earlier on Saturday, Raghavan declined to comment on Indian media reports accusing the government of sending her to Singapore to minimize the possible backlash in the event of her death.
Some Indian medical experts had questioned the decision to airlift the woman to Singapore, calling it a risky maneuver given the seriousness of her injuries. They had said she was already receiving the best possible care in India.
But Dr B.D. Athani, medical superintendent of the New Delhi hospital where she had initially been treated, told Indian television the intention was to give the victim the best chance of surviving in what he described as "an extreme case".
"Her condition was very critical from day one. We had managed what best we could do at our end ... she had to be shifted to a centre with much better facilities."
On Friday, the Singapore hospital had said the woman's condition had taken a turn for the worse. It said she had suffered "significant brain injury". She had already undergone three abdominal operations before arriving in Singapore.
The suspects in the rape - five men aged between 20 and 40, and a juvenile - were arrested within hours of the attack and are in custody. Media reports say they are likely to be formally charged with murder next week.
Commentators and sociologists say the rape tapped into a deep well of frustration many Indians feel over what they see as weak governance and poor leadership on social and economic issues.
Many protesters have complained that Singh's government has done little to curb the abuse of women in the country of 1.2 billion. A global poll by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in June found that India was the worst place to be a woman because of high rates of infanticide, child marriage and slavery.
New Delhi has the highest number of sex crimes among India's major cities, with a rape reported on average every 18 hours, according to police figures. Government data show the number of reported rape cases in the country rose by nearly 17 percent between 2007 and 2011.
(Additional reporting by Ross Colvin and Devidutta Tripathy in New Delhi; Saeed Azhar, Edgar Su and Sanjeev Miglani in Singapore; Editing by Michael Roddy, Ron Popeski and Mark Bendeich)
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