NEW DELHI (AFP) - Police formally charged five men Thursday with the gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old student, a crime which appalled India and led to national soul-searching about the treatment of women.

Police filed a string of charges including murder, rape and kidnapping against the suspects, listing evidence in a confidential 1,000-page document submitted to a district court in the south of the capital New Delhi.

The five aged between 35 and 19, who would face the death penalty if convicted, had been expected in court but were not present when the media were allowed in to listen to part of the proceedings.

“We have filed the charge sheet against the five accused,” an investigating police officer told a woman district magistrate. She is expected to transfer the case to a fast-track trial court when the next hearing is held on Saturday.

The medical student from north India was repeatedly raped and violated with an iron bar on a moving bus in the capital on December 16 as she returned from a cinema with her boyfriend.

Protesters have massed in Indian cities daily since the assault to demand the government and police take sex crimes more seriously, with tougher penalties for offenders and even chemical castration among measures being considered.