|Anger directed against foreign workers, while Singapore ponders causes of rioting
Singapore awoke to shocking scenes of burning police vehicles and ambulances following a late night riot in the worst outbreak of violence in more than 40 years in the island. Dozens of policemen were injured.
The hour-long rioting Sunday night, triggered when an Indian construction worker was struck and killed in a private bus accident in the Indian enclave know as “Little India,’’ led to questions about the causes of the violence last night, AFP reports.
Scenes of burning and rioting triggered online attacks on foreign workers.
Police said about 400 were involved in the riot, and that 27 South Asian workers aged between 23 and 45 were arrested. They included 24 Indians, two Bangladeshis and one Singapore permanent resident. They were held on charges punishable by up to seven years in prison as well as caning.
As of noon today, 22 policemen and five auxilliary policemen have sought treatment, Singapore police said. They have been discharged from hospital.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that there could be “no excuse'' for the rampage that left 39 police and civil defense staff injured and 25 vehicles including 16 police cars damaged or torched.
Singapore depends heavily on guest workers from South Asia, especially in the construction sector.
Many citizens expressed dismay over the mayhem.
“My God,'' a reader named Hayeden wrote on the Yahoo! Singapore website. “How can such a thing happen to my Singapore.''
Blogger Andrew Loh said Singaporeans were astonished as “we have not seen something of this scale before.’’
“I have worked with foreign workers here and I generally know them to be quite sensible and hardworking people, so there must be quite a serious reason why the riots happened,’’ he said.
Analysts played down suggestions that the riot, could be an indication of wider discontent among poorly paid migrant workers.
Devadas Krishnadas, the founder and managing director of Future-Moves, a Singapore-based risk consultancy, said it was “an isolated incident where a variety of factors combined to blow matters out of hand.’’
“The fact that it involved foreign workers is incidental, not central, to the events,'' he wrote in a commentary for Singapore's Today newspaper.
“There is no justification to generalize the blame across any group, any race or any gender,'' he added.
While the incident triggered online attacks on foreign workers, there were calls for calm and warning against stoking racial hatred.
Jolovan Wham, an activist on migrant workers' welfare, said that “in the absence of sufficient information about the 'riot', it is difficult to determine if it is a symptom of pent-up rage.’’
The civil defense force said emergency workers who tried to extricate the man from under the private bus had been pelted by a crowd before a full-blown riot erupted.
The victim was identified by the Straits Times newspaper as Sakthivel Kumaravelu, a 33-year-old who worked for a scaffolding company and was among the many migrant workers who gather in Little India on Sundays.
Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew, an MP for the affected district, said the cause of the riot was still unclear, but that “alcohol could have been a contributory factor.’’
There have already been calls to curb alcohol consumption in public places in Little India.
Resident Basher Marican, 69, who was returning home when the riot escalated, told AFP: “It was very unruly, I walked past a crowd along the restaurants. There were some who were cheering others as they attacked the bus.''
He said the crowd was “clearly drunk'' and that some were throwing bottles during the melee.
Sunday's violence was the first riot in Singapore since racial disturbances in 1969.