- POSTED: 22 Dec 2013 23:39
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The riot at Little India on 8 December was the first in more than 40 years. Sparked by the death of Indian national Sakthivel Kumaravelu, the riot involved some 400 foreign nationals and left 39 officers injured. 28 rioters have been charged and 57 people repatriated.
SINGAPORE: The riot at Little India on 8 December was the first in more than 40 years.
Sparked by the death of Indian national Sakthivel Kumaravelu, the riot involved some 400 foreign nationals, left 39 officers injured, and saw 25 vehicles damaged or destroyed.
In response, Little India was made a proclaimed area under the Public Order (Preservation) Act the weekend after.
28 rioters have been charged and 57 people repatriated.
The events that led to Sakthivel's death are still under investigation.
The police were first informed of a serious accident involving a bus at 9.23pm on 8 December.
Within two minutes, the Singapore Civil Defence Force was alerted, and the first ambulance and police response car arrived.
They were greeted by a crowd of about a hundred. By 9.45pm, the crowd swelled to 400, and things started to get unruly. The Special Operations Command (SOC) was activated.
At the same time, attention was still on Sakthivel, as some eight SCDF officers tried to extricate his body from under the bus.
Things took an aggressive turn as rioters began throwing items such as beer bottles, concrete blocks and drain covers at first responders.
Some 10 policemen provided a human shield - to ensure that responders could continue extricating Sakthivel's body.
The police were also able to move the bus driver and his assistant away from the area.
About 45 minutes after the SOC was activated, the first troop arrived at Hampshire Road at about 10.30pm.
But due to the delay caused by the congestion, SOC proceeded on foot to the incident site, which was the junction of Hampshire and Race Course Road.
Soon after the second SOC troop arrived and they formed a straight line to disperse the mob and the police started to make arrests.
Some 53 patrol cars were also called in from the various police units islandwide to deal with the incident.
At 11.45pm, the mob was dispersed and there was high-visibility patrol in the area to prevent rioters from regrouping.
Little India returned to normalcy by early morning on 9 December.
Just after the riot, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said: "I want to make very clear that the government will not tolerate such lawless behaviour. I have asked the police to investigate the matter thoroughly and deal with all aspects of this incident and all persons involved strictly, firmly and fairly according to our law. And I ask members of the public to stay calm and not react to various speculations and let the facts be established."
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong directed the Home Affairs Ministry to convene a Committee of Inquiry. It has been given six months to do its job.
The committee is responsible for looking into the factors that led to the incident and how the incident was handled on the ground. It will also review the current measures to manage areas where foreign workers congregate, whether they are adequate and how they can be improved.
The first charges were made by 10 December.
The sale and consumption of alcohol was suspended for the weekend of December 14 and 15, and bus services ferrying workers to and from their dorms to Little India were also suspended.
But reassurances also came from the government that they will take a firm but fair approach.
Mr Lee said: "We have one million plus foreign workers in Singapore, and about 400 were involved in this riot. There was a specific circumstance, it was a localised riot. I think the people who were involved would have to be treated severely. But the population at large, the other foreign workers who are here, who are making a living here, who are making a contribution to our economy, who had nothing to do with this. I think it would be quite unfair for Singaporeans to look at them all and say ‘they're all a problem, we cannot accept them’."
After the initial measures, there were "calibrated" measures in Little India - continuing the ban on alcohol consumption in public areas, while loosening its sale in restaurants.
Together with the shortening of alcohol sale hours in liquor shops and convenience stores, these measures will continue for up to six months, until the COI makes its recommendations.
Residents in the area said that unruly drunken behaviour by some foreign workers has been a perennial problem.
Short-term measures announced on the sale and consumption of alcohol may work in Little India.
Beyond that, the challenge will be to balance longer-term measures that take in the interests of the various stakeholders - including residents, businesses, and foreign workers - in a sustainable way.
Until then, the next landmark for Singapore will be the conclusion and recommendations of the COI expected in six months, and changes that will follow.