SINGAPORE: Singapore prosecutors will charge 24 Indian workers for taking part in the city-state’s first riot in more than 40 years, police said Tuesday as the government called for calm and warned against stoking racial hatred.
The men face jail terms of up to 10 years plus caning for the hour-long fracas on Sunday night, triggered when an Indian construction worker was struck and killed by a private bus in a district known as Little India. They were among an estimated 400 people involved in the rampage that left 39 police and civil defense staff injured and 25 vehicles—including 16 police cars—damaged or burnt.
Two Bangladeshis, another Indian national and a Malaysian who were also arrested after the riot were released because investigations showed they were not involved in the violence, according to the police.
The 55-year-old Singaporean bus driver who knocked down and killed construction worker Sakthivel Kumaravelu, 33, has been released on bail after being arrested on charges of causing death by a negligent act, they said.
The tiny Southeast Asian nation of 5.4 million people is one of the wealthiest places in the world but depends heavily on guest workers, with laborers from South Asia dominating sectors like construction.
Officials have called for calm after the riot, which triggered a wave of foreigner-bashing in social media and local blogs. On the Facebook page of Yahoo! Singapore, reader Tan Beng Ming wrote: “Jail them, cane them and send them packing! For good measure, send their compatriots back too!”
“Only foreigners will start a riot, it is their norm,” wrote another reader, Koh Koh.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has appealed for Singaporeans not to allow the incident to tarnish their views of the foreign worker community in the city-state. “The riot was an isolated incident arising from the unlawful actions of an unruly mob reacting to a fatal traffic accident,” he said in a statement Monday. Lee also ordered the formation of a special committee to review the factors that led to the riot, as well as existing measures to manage areas where foreign workers congregate.
There will be a ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol in the area where the riot broke out this weekend following eyewitness accounts that many of the attackers were drunk. Activists have urged authorities to investigate whether the violence on Sunday was an indication of wider discontent among poorly paid migrant workers.
“If these factors go unaddressed, the threshold for escalation remains low. The smallest incident gets to a tipping point quite easily,” socio-political blogger Alex Au wrote.