Singapore bus death triggers riot

The BBC's Ashleigh Nghiem: Rare riots in Singapore's Little India district

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Police in Singapore have arrested 27 South Asian suspects after hundreds of people took part in a riot sparked by the death of an Indian national.

Trouble started after the 33-year-old man was knocked down by a private bus in a district known as Little India.

About 400 foreign workers took to the streets, hurling railings at police and torching police cars and an ambulance.

At least 18 people were hurt, most of them police officers, before the violence was brought under control.

Police commissioner Ng Joo Hee said it was the first rioting in Singapore in more than 30 years.

He condemned it as "intolerable, wanton violence". "It is not the Singapore way," he added.

The outbreak of public disorder is rare in strictly-governed Singapore.

The wealthy city-state depends heavily on foreign workers, with migrant labourers from South Asia dominating sectors like construction.

Many congregate in Little India on Sundays to shop, drink and socialise.

 A police car on fire in Little India on 8 December 2013 The violence erupted late on Sunday night, sparked by a fatal bus accident
Police cars overturned in Singapore. 8 Dec 2013 Rioters overturned these two police cars in the Little India district
Police in riot gear in Little India, Singapore, 8 December 2013 Around 300 police were deployed to the area
Arrested men in Little India. 8 Dec 2013 Little India is a hub for Singapore's South Asian workforce
'Criminal behaviour'

Pictures and videos posted in social media showed two police cars being overturned by the mob. Several private vehicles were also damaged.

A statement from Singapore's Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said that emergency services were alerted to a road accident at 21:25 (13:25 GMT).

At the scene

In Little India, there are few signs that a riot took place just over 12 hours ago. The mood feels calm, with tourists dining at restaurants, and shoppers and construction workers appearing to go about their business as usual. A few police officers could be seen patrolling.

Local businesses described their shock at the riot, which was Singapore's first in decades. Many closed up and pulled down their shutters when the fighting broke out.

"I've been in Singapore for four years and it's the first time I've experienced this. It was horrible," a restaurant worker said. "We shut the restaurant and stayed inside with the guests - they were scared, and didn't leave till around 23:00."

Another shop-owner said: "We heard big bangs and saw people throwing bottles and pushing at buses. My car and lorry were damaged."

Little India gets particularly busy during the weekends, when migrant workers congregate and socialise there on their day off. People speculated that the rioters were drunk, and emotions were running high following the bus accident.

But most people felt more violence was unlikely. "Things are back to normal today," one businessman said.

"Upon arrival, there was a man trapped under a bus. An SCDF paramedic pronounced him dead on arrival. SCDF rescuers extricated the body using hydraulic rescue equipment."

"Projectiles were thrown at the SCDF rescuers while they were extricating the body."

Nine SCDF vehicles were damaged in the incident, including five which were burned, it said.

Rioting in Singapore is punishable by up to seven years in prison plus caning.

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

"We will spare no effort to identify the culprits and deal with them with the full force of the law," he said in a statement.

The Indian High Commission said in a statement that it was "in constant touch with the Singapore authorities to ascertain the facts of the incidents" and would "provide all assistance to affected Indian nationals."

"We hope all parties will maintain calm," it added.

Singapore relies on foreign workers to fill labourer vacancies in low-paid sectors like construction. Most are young men who come from India and Bangladesh, and live in dormitories while they work and send money home.

Little India, a popular area of South Asian restaurants and shops, is where many of these labourers congregate when they have a day off.

Last year, a strike by mainland Chinese bus drivers shone a spotlight on the low wages paid to some migrant workers and the conditions in which some live.

Four of the drivers, who complained they were paid less than their Singaporean counterparts, and at the state of their employer-provided accommodation, were jailed.

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