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By Nita Bhalla

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Small groups of protesters dodged police and tried to reach the homes of India's leaders in the capital New Delhi on Sunday, in a third day of protests after the alleged rape and torture of a five-year old girl.

Police say the child was abducted on April 15, kept in captivity and raped by a neighbor near her north Delhi home. The accused, who had fled, was brought back to the capital on Saturday.

The girl, who suffered severe injuries, was slowly recovering after surgery despite an infection, a doctor at the hospital where she was being treated told reporters.

Public fury over the attack has echoed the response to the gang rape of a 23-year-old trainee physiotherapist on a bus on December 16. She later died of her injuries.

That case ignited big protests and provoked national debate about gender violence, putting the issue on the political agenda in the nation of 1.2 billion people a year before elections.

Police briefly detained dozens of women protesters from the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party who tried to reach the house of Sonia Gandhi, the head of the ruling Congress party. Another group was blocked trying to reach the prime minister's house.

Much of the protesters' anger was directed at police, after allegations officers tried to bribe the family of the victim to not file a case, and video footage showed an officer slapping a woman demonstrator on Friday.

Protesters burnt an effigy of the city's police chief outside the hospital where the girl was being treated, and demanded his resignation, television images showed. Another group shouted slogans outside police headquarters.

"Taxpayers' money is going towards their salaries, but they are doing nothing to protect us. We don't trust the police -- they are corrupt and lazy," said Surendra Kumar 35, who was protested outside the hospital.

Police invoked a law to stop protests near the heart of government in central Delhi, but hundreds of students were still on the streets near the heavily-guarded police headquarters at nightfall.

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.

However, most sex crimes in India go unreported, many offenders go unpunished, and justice is slow, according to social activists, who say successive governments have done little to ensure the safety of women and children.

(Additional reporting by Manoj Kumar; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Jason Webb)

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