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Indian leader pledges to make women’s safety a top issue after brutal rape

Several hundred people gathered in New Delhi on Thursday in a bid to rekindle mass protests sparked by a gang rape.

Ahmad Masood/reuters

Several hundred people gathered in New Delhi on Thursday in a bid to rekindle mass protests sparked by a gang rape.

NEW DELHI — Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pledged on Thursday to take action to protect the nation’s women while the young victim of a gang rape on a New Delhi bus was flown to Singapore for treatment of severe internal injuries.

The Dec. 16 rape and brutal beating of the 23-year-old student triggered widespread protests, including a march on Thursday demanding a government crackdown on the daily harassment Indian women face, ranging from groping to severe violence. Some protesters have called for the death penalty or castration for rapists, who under current laws face a maximum punishment of life in prison.

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Rape victims rarely press charges because of social stigma and fear they will be accused of inviting the attack. Many women say they structure their lives around protecting themselves and their daughters from attack.

Singh’s government set up two committees in response to the protests. One, looking into speeding up sexual assault trials, has already received 6,100 e-mail suggestions. The second will examine what lapses might have contributed to the rape — which took place on a moving bus that passed through police checkpoints — and suggest measures to improve women’s safety.

‘‘Let me state categorically that the issue of safety and security of women is of the highest concern to our government,’’ Singh said at a development meeting. He urged officials in India’s states to pay special attention to the problem.

The rape victim arrived in Singapore on an air ambulance Thursday and was admitted to the intensive care unit of the Mount Elizabeth hospital, renowned for multi-organ transplant facilities.

On Thursday night she remained in ‘‘extremely critical condition’’ as a team of specialists worked to stabilize her, Dr. Kelvin Loh, the hospital’s chief executive, said in a statement. Before arriving in Singapore, she had already undergone three abdominal surgeries and suffered cardiac arrest, he said.

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