Five men accused of the rape and murder of an Indian student appeared in court yesterday to hear charges against them, after two offered evidence possibly in return for a lighter sentence.

The five men, along with a teenager, are accused of raping 23-year-old physiotherapy student Jyoti Singh Pandey after she boarded a bus in New Delhi on December 16. She died two weeks later.

The attack on the student, whose father said he wanted to be identified, has ignited protests against the government and anger towards the police. It has also provoked a rare national debate about rising violence against women.

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A police guard said the men had their faces covered when they entered the courtroom, which had been closed to the public.

The five had already been charged with murder, rape and abduction along with other offences and the magistrate gave them copies of the charges.

The court has yet to assign them defence lawyers or legal aid, said public prosecutor Rajiv Mohan, adding that he was seeking the death sentence, given the "heinous" crime.

Most members of the bar association in Saket district, where the case is being heard, have vowed not to represent the men.