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Dozens arrested after rare Singapore riots

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-12-09

Singapore's streets were littered with burnt cars on Monday after hundreds of South Asian workers rioted in the island nation's worst unrest in more than 40 years. The riot began after a 33-year-old Indian worker was hit and killed by a private bus.

Burnt cars littered the streets of Singapore on Monday after hundreds of South Asian workers rioted following a fatal road accident in the city-state's Little India district.

The riot – the island nation's worst outbreak of violence in more than 40 years – erupted late Sunday after a 33-year-old Indian worker was hit and killed by a private bus.

Police said about 400 people were involved in the rare outbreak of public disorder and that 27 workers had been arrested on rioting charges, which carry a possible sentence of up to seven years in prison as well as caning.

At least five vehicles, including three police cars, were torched in the violence before the situation was brought under control by police commandos.

"Whatever events may have sparked the rioting, there is no excuse for such violent, destructive, and criminal behaviour," Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a statement.

"We will spare no effort to identify the culprits and deal with them with the full force of the law."

'Not the Singapore way'

Commissioner of Police Ng Joo Hee denounced the violence as "intolerable".

"Rioting, destruction of property – it is not the Singapore way," he told a news conference early on Monday.

The outbreak has tarnished Singapore's long-held reputation for public order.

The unrest is likely to fuel concerns over simmering discontent among the country's low-paid foreign workers. Singapore saw its biggest outbreak of labour unrest in years in 2012, when about 170 bus drivers from mainland China went on strike illegally.

Migrant labour activist Jolovan Wham emphasised that the riot was not "just mindless violence" but that it was difficult to determine what was behind it.

"We should not see this 'riot' as just mindless violence which does not reflect the 'Singapore way', as the commissioner for police says," he said. "We'll need to wait for more information before drawing any firm conclusions."

State-linked broadcaster MediaCorp said it was the first riot in Singapore since racial disturbances in 1969.

Singapore depends heavily on guest workers, with labourers from South Asia dominating sectors like construction. Many congregate in Little India on Sundays to shop, dine and drink.

The incident immediately triggered online attacks on foreign workers in Singapore but officials called for calm.

Retiree Basher Marican, 69, who was returning home as the riot escalated, said the "crowd was clearly drunk".

"They had beer and liquor bottles in their hands and some were throwing them," he said in Tamil.

"It was very unruly. I walked passed a crowd along the restaurants. There were some who were cheering others as they attacked the bus," he said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

 

Date created : 2013-12-09

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