Police in India have fired water cannons at a group of mainly women, who were protesting the gang rape and killings of two girls in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, according to the AFP news agency.

On Monday, several hundred protesters were demonstrating outside the office of the Uttar Pradesh's chief minister in Lucknow, the state capital, when riot police tried to disperse the crowd by hosing them, as seen on footage broadcast on local television stations.

The protests came amid outrage over last week's killings in India's largest state where two lower-caste Dalit teenage girls were found hanging from a tree after being gang-raped by five men.

Police told the AP news agency on Sunday that two people in custody had confessed to attacking the girls.

The United Nations released a statement earlier saying violence against women should be regarded as a matter of basic human rights.

"There should be justice for the families of the two teenaged girls and for all the women and girls from lower caste communities who are targeted and raped in rural India," said Lise Grande, the UN's resident coordinator for India. "Violence against women is not a women's issue, it's a human rights issue."

Tougher laws

India brought in tougher rape laws last year after the fatal gang-rape of a student on a bus in New Delhi but they have failed to stem the tide of sex attacks across the country.

Rape and hanging sparks outrage in India

There was widespread outrage when the initial protests over the New Delhi case were broken up with the use of water cannon, but police resorted to similar methods on Monday in Uttar Pradesh's state capital Lucknow.

"We're not going to sleep, we'll be here, they have to stop this," one protester told NDTV, a local television station, during the demonstration in Lucknow before the crowd was drenched by the police.

Rights activists and politicians have said the latest case showed authorities in Uttar Pradesh, which is run by the regional Samajwadi Party, were "not serious" about tackling sexual crimes.

Asked at a press conference last week about the incidence of rapes in the state, chief minister Yadav told a female reporter: "You haven't been harmed, have you? No, right? Great. Thank you."

Source: Agencies