Singapore bus death triggers riot

  • Published
Media caption,

The BBC's Ashleigh Nghiem: "The protesters were overcome with rage"

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.

Image source, AFP/The New Paper
Image caption,
The violence erupted late on Sunday night, sparked by a fatal bus accident
Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Rioters overturned these two police cars in the Little India district
Image source, Kane Cunico
Image caption,
Around 300 police were deployed to the area
Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
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).

"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.