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India police arrest suspect over rape of 5-year-old girl

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

A five-year-old Indian girl who was abducted, raped and tortured in New Delhi was alert and stable, doctors said on Saturday, as fresh protests erupted over sexual violence in the country.

The attack evoked memories of the brutal gang-rape and death of a young female student last December which shook India and sparked weeks of demonstrations against widespread crimes against women and children.

Newspapers splashed the rape of the five-year-old on their front pages with headlines such as "Delhi shamed again" and "Depraved Delhi".

The child was being treated at a top government hospital for serious internal injuries sustained during the more than 40-hour ordeal, as police arrested a garment worker early on Saturday on suspicion of carrying out the attack.

"It is the act of a monster," senior Patna police official Ravindar Kumar told AFP, saying the suspect was booked on charges of rape, attempted murder and illegal confinement, and that he would be returned to New Delhi to face trial.

The child "is conscious and alert," D.K. Sharma, one of a team of doctors treating her at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, India's premier government-owned hospital, told reporters.

"Now her condition is okay and she is under close observation," Sharma said, adding she is "quite stable".

But the physician said the child may have to undergo "definitive and corrective" surgery to recover from the attack, which has provoked two days of demonstrations in New Delhi demanding better safety for women and children.

The 22-year-old man arrested, Manoj Kumar, described by media reports as a tenant in the child's house, was apprehended after he fled to his in-laws' home in the eastern Indian state of Bihar.

Police accused the suspect of repeatedly attacking the child inside a locked room after kidnapping her Monday in a lower middle-class area of the New Delhi.

Doctors said the girl was mutilated and suffered serious internal and other injuries. She was also fighting an infection.

"She was left for dead by the suspect in the room where she was held for over 40 hours," Delhi's chief police investigator, Prabhakar, who uses one name, said.

The assault sparked new outrage over sexual crimes, reminiscent of protests that swept the capital in December after a 23-year-old student was savagely gang-raped by six men on a moving bus and died nearly two weeks later.

"We want justice," shouted demonstrators gathered outside the hospital where the child was being treated. Protesters also massed outside police headquarters and some sought to push through barricades as police stood guard.

Demonstrators were angered by reports that police, who have been under heavy public pressure to reduce the number of rapes, were reluctant to register the case and offered the father money to forget the assault.

Ruling Congress party president Sonia Gandhi, known as India's most powerful politician, issued a statement telling authorities that "action and not words" are necessary to stop such crime.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called it a "shameful incident" and asked society "to work to root out the evil of rape".

The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) attacked the police department, saying speedy action might have prevented the attack.

If the investigating officers "had done a good job in finding the child, then possibly this brutality could have been avoided", BJP's Smriti Irani said.

The child, who had last been seen when she went outside to play, was found after people heard her cries. Injuries to her neck suggested her attacker may have tried to strangle her, said R.N. Bansal, one of the doctors who treated her.

New Delhi, a city of at least 16 million people, has long had a reputation as India's "rape capital" with the most rapes annually. In 2012, there were around 700 rapes reported there, a 23 percent rise from the previous year, police said.

In the wake of the December gang-rape, India's parliament last month approved a new bill toughening punishment for sex offenders.

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