Singapore will ban the sale and consumption of alcohol in the Little India district this weekend as more arrests were made after the nation’s first riot in more than four decades.
Eight more Indian nationals were detained, the Singapore Police Force said on its Facebook page today. Three will be charged in court today, one is out on bail and four were released because they were not involved. Twenty-four Indian nationals were charged with rioting in the Singapore Subordinate Courts yesterday.
“Alcohol consumption was a contributory factor” to the riot, Second Minister of Home Affairs S. Iswaran said in a statement on his Facebook page yesterday. “All sale and consumption of liquor will be banned in the affected area for this coming weekend,” he said, adding that “this will help stabilize the situation.”
The riot broke out on the night of Dec. 8 in the Little India district after a bus ran over and killed a 33-year-old Indian national, according to the police. Police vehicles, an ambulance and private cars were set ablaze, toppled or damaged in the area, which attracts thousands of foreign workers on their Sunday days off. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has ordered an inquiry into the riot that involved about 400 people.
“Making it an alcohol-free zone is going too far and will deprive workers of one of the few things they enjoy,” non-governmental organization Transient Workers Count Too said in a statement. “Alcohol has been consumed for years in the area with no incidents on this scale.”
About 300 officers responded to the riot with 22 police officers and five auxiliary officers hurt, according to the police. All officers were later released from hospital. Vehicles damaged during the riot, including 16 police cars, were removed. The situation was brought under control within an hour, authorities said.
The Little India district is about 3 kilometers (2 miles) from the city state’s central business district.
The bus driver, a 55-year-old Singaporean, was arrested for causing death by negligent act and is assisting with investigations, the police said.
“There is no excuse for such violent and criminal behavior,” Lee said in a statement Dec. 9.
The Committee of Inquiry will look into the reasons for the riot and how it was handled, and review how the government manages areas where foreign workers congregate, Lee said.
About 3,700 foreign workers have been interviewed and 176 people were brought in for questioning, a police spokeswoman said by phone today, asking not to be named citing policy.
The men who were charged yesterday were accused of “being members of an unlawful assembly whose common object was to overawe, by a show of criminal force,” including throwing pieces of cement at police officers, according to court papers.
The men will be held for a week for further investigation and the next hearing is scheduled for Dec. 17. If convicted, they may face a jail term of as long as seven years and be caned.
Police have increased their presence in dormitories and places where foreign workers congregate, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said in a statement yesterday.
“It should not be just a case of find the culprit, mete out the sentences and then the punished would not dare do it again,” Russell Heng, the president of Transient Workers Count Too, wrote in a commentary published in the Straits Times newspaper yesterday. “I am hoping, and it is more important, that we learn the right lessons from this episode.”
Large-scale demonstrations have been almost unknown in Singapore since race riots in 1964 killed 36 people and contributed to the island’s ouster from a federation with Malaysia. Singapore and Malaysia were united from 1963 to 1965. Clashes between the Chinese and Malay communities culminated in race riots in 1969 in Malaysia, which spilled briefly into Singapore. After the violence of the 1960s the Singapore government imposed curbs on public assembly.
Discontent in Singapore over foreign workers has risen after years of open immigration spurred complaints on social media about congestion and infrastructure strains at a time of widening income inequality. A four-year government campaign to encourage companies to employ fewer overseas workers has in turn led to a labor shortage, prompting some companies to seek cheaper locations.
The number of people in Singapore has jumped by more than 1.1 million to about 5.3 million since mid-2004 as the government used immigration to make up for a low birth rate. Foreign workers make up about a third of the total workforce.
As part of its effort to reduce imported labor, the government said in February that companies must pay higher levies for lower-skilled foreign employees over the next two years and cut the proportion of overseas workers in some industries. In 2012, the National Wages Council recommended raising the pay of low-wage Singaporean workers as their income growth had lagged the rest of the workforce for the past decade.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rosalind Mathieson at email@example.com