Twenty-seven South Asian workers, including 24 Indians, were arrested today for alleged rioting in Singapore as its Prime Minister ordered a probe into the country's worst outbreak of violence in over 40 years.
Besides the Indians, two Bangladeshis and one Singapore permanent resident, whose origin was not known, were also arrested for last night's rioting, triggered by a road accident that killed an Indian worker.
At least 18 people, including 10 policemen, were injured when some 400 people attacked the police and damaged 16 vehicles in an Indian district here, police said.
The trouble started after a private bus fatally knocked down an Indian pedestrian, 33-year-old Sakthivel Kuaravelu, around 9:20pm at the junction of Race Course Road and Hampshire Road in Little India, a precinct of Indian-origin businesses, eateries and pubs where most of the South Asian workers take their Sunday break, they said.
All the 27 arrested are in the age-group of 23-45 and face charges under "rioting with dangerous weapons", punishable by up to seven years in prison as well as caning.
The Indian High Commission in Singapore said it was calling on all parties to remain calm following the riot.
"We understand the situation is under control and Singapore authorities have appealed for maintaining calm by all sections of society. We hope all parties will maintain calm," said the High Commission in a statement.
High Commissioner Vijay Thakur Singh said the High Commission was in constant touch with the Singapore authorities to ascertain the facts of the incidents.
Singh said the High Commission would inform the next of kin of Kumaravelu.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong conveyed his deepest condolences to the family of Kuaravelu and ordered a probe into the incident.
"I also offer my deepest condolences to the family of Mr Sakthivel Kumaravelu, who was killed in the traffic accident that preceded the riot.
"I have directed the Ministry of Home Affairs to convene a Committee of Inquiry (COI) to look into this serious incident. The COI will look into the factors that led to the incident and how the incident was handled on the ground," Lee said in a statement.
He said the riot was a very grave incident and his government would "spare no effort to identify the culprits and deal with them with the full force of the law."
Kuaravelu, who hailed from Tamil Nadu, was working here as a construction worker with Heng Hup Soon, a scaffolding company, for about two years.
His body was not decapitated as reported by some news outlets but he did suffer injuries to his face, The Straits Times reported today.
In a post on his Facebook account early this morning, the Prime Minister also urged all Singaporeans to stay calm.
Addressing a press conference, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean today 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." The government has emphasised that the incident was not pre-meditated but would be dealt with very seriously.
Police have classified the traffic incident as causing death by negligence. The bus driver, a 55-year-old Singaporean, was in hospital, assisting police in probing the accident, they said.
Others injured include 10 police officers and four personnel from the Singapore Civil Defence Force. Some 300 police officers were deployed to the site after the riot.
The riot was quelled within two hours after it broke out, Channel News Asia reported. Police had deployed the Special Operations Command and Gurkha Contingent to the scene.
Police Commissioner Ng Joo Hee said rioters threw glass bottles, railings and other projectiles at officers.
Police exercised restraint and did not fire a single shot.
Police cars were flipped on their sides and attacked by the crowd.
Ng said: "Wanton violence, rioting, destruction of property, fighting the police is not the Singapore way and the police will spare no effort. First to identify, and then we will find and then we will arrest and then we will prosecute everyone who was involved in yesterday's violence.
"You can take that as a guarantee from the police and as assurance to all Singaporeans and also residents who live in Little India."
More arrests were expected in the coming days, according to media reports.
In the light of this incident, authorities said extra attention will be paid to Little India, dormitories as well as areas of congregation, where such foreign workers are living or gathering.
This means more patrolling in that vicinity, according to media reports.
It has been over 40 years since Singapore witnessed a riot of this extent.
Several hundred thousands South Asians, mostly from India and Bangladesh, work in Singapore's construction, services and industrial sectors.