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SINGAPORE - The Indian gang-rape victim whose assault in New Delhi triggered nationwide protests died in hospital on Saturday of injuries suffered in the attack, a Singapore hospital treating her said.
“Her vital signs are deteriorating with signs of severe organ failure,” Kelvin Loh, the chief executive of Mount Elizabeth Hospital, said in a statement.
“As of 9pm (1300 GMT) on 28 Dec, the patient’s condition has taken a turn for the worse.
“This is despite doctors fighting for her life including putting her on maximum artificial ventilation support, optimal antibiotic doses as well as stimulants which maximise her body’s capability to fight infections.”
The hospital had informed the victim’s family of her worsening condition and “they are currently by her side to encourage and comfort her", Loh said.
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Earlier on Friday the victim was described by doctors in Singapore as “struggling against the odds, and fighting for her life” after she was found to have a lung infection and brain injury. While still in India she had suffered a heart attack and had already undergone three abdominal operations before being flown to Singapore.
She had also been diagnosed with severe intestinal injuries as a result of being attacked with an iron bar during the assault.
Shortly after the latest hospital statement was issued, an AFP reporter outside the intensive care unit where the victim is being treated saw nurses wheeling in medical equipment.
There was a flurry of activity and loud sobs were heard from the room, but they subsided a short while later.
Family "shattered" by her death
The death of the 23-year-old medical student could spawn new protests and possibly fresh confrontations with the police, especially in the Indian capital, which has been the focus of the demonstrations.
"We are very sad to report that the patient passed away peacefully at 4:45 a.m. on Dec 29, 2012 (15:45 a.m. ET Friday). Her family and officials from the High Commission of India were by her side," Mount Elizabeth Hospital Chief Executive Officer Kelvin Loh said in a statement.
The woman, who was severely beaten, raped and thrown out of a moving bus in New Delhi, was flown to Singapore by the Indian government on Wednesday for specialist treatment.
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 assault on December 16 triggered public outrage and demands for better policing and harsher punishment for rapists.
The case has received blanket coverage on cable television news channels. The woman has not been identified but some Indian media have called her "Amanat", an Urdu word meaning "treasure".
India’s High Commissioner to Singapore T.C.A. Raghavan said the woman’s family was “shattered” by her death.
“The scale of her injuries (was) very great,” Raghavan told reporters at the hospital.
“It was was very trying for the family. The girl of course was unconscious... I must say they (the family) bore the entire process with a great deal of fortitude and a great deal of courage.”
The body was taken to a morgue, and Raghavan said arrangements were being made for it to be returned to India in line with the family’s wishes.
The decision to fly her out of India by air ambulance was taken at a meeting of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s cabinet on Wednesday and the government had promised to pay all her medical bills.
Raghavan declined to comment on reports in India 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.
Move to bring her to Singapore questioned
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government has been battling criticism that it was tone-deaf to the outcry and heavy-handed in its response to the protests in the Indian capital.
"It is deeply saddening and just beyond words. The police and government definitely have to do something more," said Sharanya Ramachandran, an Indian national who is working as an engineer in Singapore.
"They should bring in very severe punishment for such cases. They should start recognizing that it is a big crime."
Demonstrations over the lack of safety for women erupted across India after the attack, culminating last weekend in pitched battles between police and protesters in the heart of New Delhi.
New Delhi has been on edge since the weekend clashes. Hundreds of policemen have been deployed on the streets of the capital and streets leading to the main protest site, the India Gate war memorial, have been shut for long periods, causing commuter chaos in the city of 16 million.
Political commentators and sociologists say the rape has tapped into a deep well of frustration that 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.