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Rape, killing of 3 sisters inflame India

NEW DELHI — A week after the bodies of three young sisters were found in a village well, police said Thursday they have launched a hunt for the men suspected of raping and killing them, the latest case of sexual violence to grip the country.

The sisters, ages 5-11, were found in the Bhandara district in Maharashtra state on Feb. 14 after they had gone missing from school, police officer Javed Ahmed said. The area is more than 630 miles south of New Delhi, the capital.

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As the victims’ mother accused police of a shoddy investigation, enraged villagers forced shops to close, burned tires, and blocked a national highway passing through the area for several hours on Wednesday, demanding justice.

‘‘The police did not take the case seriously and did nothing for two days,’’ the CNN-IBN television news channel quoted the mother as saying. Her name was withheld.

One police officer has been suspended for not acting promptly, Indian Heavy Industries Minister Praful Patel, who represents Bhandara district in Parliament, told reporters.

‘‘All of us have to hang our heads in shame,’’ Patel said.

Cabinet Minister Manish Tewari called the killings a ‘‘very, very heinous assault’’ and said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was sending $18,300 to the family. The central government has asked state investigators to keep them informed of the investigation.

The fatal gang rape of a young woman in a moving bus in New Delhi on Dec. 16 set off nationwide protests about India’s treatment of women and spurred the government to hurry through a package of laws to protect them.

A new law enacted by the government has increased the sentences for rape from the existing seven to 10 years to a maximum of 20 years.

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