By Satarupa Bhattacharjya
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Police thwarted an attempt by activists on Thursday to rekindle mass protests in New Delhi over the gang rape and ferocious beating of a young woman, after the victim was airlifted to Singapore for specialist hospital care to save her life.
Demonstrations erupted in New Delhi after the December 16 attack, culminating last weekend in pitched battles between police and protesters around the city's India Gate war memorial.
However, activists who gathered on Thursday for a fresh march on India Gate were stopped by police in riot gear armed with tear gas and water cannons to hold them back.
"We will win back our freedom!" the protesters, mostly university students, shouted as they pushed against barricades on a road leading to the city's landmark monument. Unable to make further headway, the crowd dispersed as night fell.
New Delhi has the highest number of sex attacks among India's major cities, with a rape reported on average every 18 hours, according to the National Crimes Records Bureau.
Most rapes and other sex crimes go unreported and offenders are rarely punished, but the brutality of the assault on the medical student in New Delhi triggered public outrage, demands for both better policing and harsher punishment for rapists.
The 23-year-old victim, who was thrown out of a moving bus after being attacked by six men, was flown to Singapore on Wednesday night for treatment at the city-state's Mount Elizabeth Hospital, after more than a week of intensive care in a government hospital in New Delhi.
Dr. Kelvin Loh, chief executive officer of the Singapore hospital, said on Thursday evening that the woman was in "an extremely critical condition".
"Prior to her arrival, she has already undergone three abdominal surgeries, and experienced a cardiac arrest in India," Loh said. "A multi-disciplinary team of specialists is taking care of her and doing everything possible to stabilize her condition."
The outcry and spasm of violent protests over the case caught Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government off guard and set off a blame game between politicians and the police.
Singh digressed in a speech on economic planning on Thursday to stress that the safety and security of women was a priority issue for his government, and said there would be a review of the laws and levels of punishment for aggravated sexual assault.
But within an hour of that meeting, his Congress party was plunged into embarrassment over comments made by one of its lawmakers, Abhijit Mukherjee, son of the country's president.
Mukherjee described the anti-rape demonstrations as a "pink revolution" by women wearing heavy make-up who think it is fashionable to protest.
Quizzed repeatedly on news channels, Mukherjee said he regretted causing offence and apologized. However, his comments had already sparked a wave of fury on social media sites and even his own sister said she was "embarrassed" by her brother.
(Writing by Satarupa Bhattacharjya, Additional reporting by Arup Roychoudhury in New Delhi and Hasan Saeed in Singapore; Editing by John Chalmers and Ron Popeski)