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India arrests 3d suspect in gang rape of 2 teens

Activists marched through the streets of New Delhi to protest the gang rape and killing of two teenage cousins.

Altaf Qadri/Associated press

Activists marched through the streets of New Delhi to protest the gang rape and killing of two teenage cousins.

LUCKNOW, India — Police arrested a third suspect Saturday in the gang rape and slaying of two teenage cousins found hanging from a tree in northern India, as a top state official said he was recommending a federal investigation into a case that has triggered national outrage.

The three suspects detained in the attack in Uttar Pradesh state are cousins in their 20s from an extended family, and they face murder and rape charges, crimes punishable by the death penalty, said police Officer N. Malik. Two other suspects from the same village are also being sought, he said.

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Facing growing criticism for a series of rapes, authorities in Uttar Pradesh, which has a longstanding reputation for lawlessness, also arrested two police officers and fired two others Friday for failing to investigate when the father of one of the teenagers reported the girls missing earlier in the week.

India has a long history of tolerance for sexual violence. But the gang rape and killing of the 14- and 15-year-old girls — which was followed by TV footage showing their corpses swaying as they hung from a mango tree — caused outrage across the nation. The father who reported the girls missing, Sohan Lal, has demanded a federal investigation.

‘‘I don’t expect justice from the state government as state police officers shielded the suspects,’’ said Lal, a poor farm laborer who refused to accept a payment of $8,500 offered by the state government as financial help. He told reporters Saturday that he would accept no financial assistance until the Central Bureau of Investigation, India’s FBI, takes over the case.

Such government payments are common in India when poor families face high-profile calamities, and Lal’s unusual refusal — particularly for a man living in desperate poverty — was likely to focus attention on his demands for a federal investigation.

With pressure mounting to act swiftly, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav said he was recommending to the federal government an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation.

Dozens of members of the All India Democratic Women’s Association marched Saturday through the streets of New Delhi, India’s capital, demanding the immediate arrest of the two fugitive suspects and justice for the victims.

‘‘Enough is enough. Women will not tolerate such atrocities any longer,’’ the protesters chanted, asking state authorities to take crimes against women seriously.

Uttar Pradesh officials initially appeared caught off guard by the reaction to the attack on the two girls, and Yadav on Friday mocked journalists for asking about it.

‘‘You’re not facing any danger, are you?’’ he said in Lucknow, the state capital. ‘‘Then why are you worried? What’s it to you?’’

Ashish Gupta, a state inspector-general of police, pointed out to journalists that 10 rapes are reported every day in Uttar Pradesh, which has 200 million people and is India’s most populous state. Gupta said 60 percent of such crimes happen when women go into the fields because their homes have no toilets.

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