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Remembering the 1964 race riots

On this day  50 years ago, violence erupted in many parts of Singapore. In total, 22 people were killed in the riots and its aftermath, and another 461 injured.

SINGAPORE: On this day (July 21) 50 years ago, violence erupted in many parts of Singapore. It was the start of what became known as the 1964 race riots.

Against the backdrop of political tension between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, more than 20,000 Malays gathered at the Padang in a peaceful annual celebration of the Prophet Muhammad's birthday.

Typically, religious leaders would preach to the crowds before a planned procession which wind through the city and on to Geylang. On this occasion however, local representatives from Malaysia's ruling party UMNO kicked off the festivities with anti-establishment rhetoric.

Many accused the People’s Action Party of disadvantaging Malays in Singapore. By the time President Yusof Ishak made the closing speech, he was greeted by jeers instead of cheers.

The procession began at 4pm and the route would have taken the procession through Beach Road, Arab Street, and Kallang Road, before ending at Lorong 12 Geylang.

But along the way, things turned sour. Scuffles broke out near the former Kallang Gasworks at the junction of Kallang Road and Lavender Street, between those in the procession and Chinese bystanders. 

The fighting soon spread to Geylang Road, a little over a kilometre away. Rioters overturned cars as they battled with makeshift weapons such as clubs, stones and bottles. The surging violence prompted the government in Kuala Lumpur to activate Singapore's police force.

The authorities imposed a curfew, which lasted from 9:30pm on July 21 till August 2, 1964. By the time the curfew was lifted, 22 people had been killed and another 461 injured.

To address the issues behind the riots, the government then formed so-called Goodwill Committees. These later evolved into Citizens' Consultative Committees (CCCs), a branch under the People's Association. 

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