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Chronology of a riot

[SINGAPORE] It has been found that the victim of the fatal accident that may have sparked the riot at Little India on Sunday night was intoxicated at the time of the incident.

The 33-year-old male Indian national, Sakthivel Kumaravelu, had boarded the private bus, which was ferrying workers from Little India to the Avery Lodge dormitory in Jalan Papan, in a drunken state and started causing trouble.

Channel News Asia reported yesterday that preliminary investigations by police revealed that the bus driver had asked a 38-year- old Singaporean female time-keeper staff of the Singapore School Transport Association (SSTA), which coordinates the transport plans for foreign workers to and from their dormitories to Little India, to get Sakthivel off the bus. When she managed to do so, the bus driver closed the door before moving off but was immediately halted by a loud bang on the left side of his bus, only to find Sakthivel under his bus upon checking.

Police said yesterday that they received a call at 9.23 pm on Sunday with a message: "A bus has knocked down someone here, ambulance required." Two officers arrived at the scene around 9.40 pm, and found that a crowd of 100 men had surrounded the scene but were not aggressive as yet. Although SCDF officers tried to extricate Sakthivel from under the bus, the crowd grew aggressive and hindered the officers from doing their work, which prompted police and SCDF officers to form a human shield around them.

They managed to extricate Sakthivel's body from under the bus by about 10pm. By then the crowd had gotten rowdy and started assaulting the bus driver and the SSTA female staff by hurling bottles and dustbins at the bus. Officers rescued them to safety and sent the two, as well as Sakthivel's body, to Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

Two troops of the Special Operations Command (SOC) arrived at about 10.30pm to manage the by now 400-strong crowd. Due to congestion on the streets, they had to make their way to the location by foot. The police said that the situation was under control by 11.30pm.

They arrested 28 men, aged 23 to 45, in connection with the rioting incident, of which 25 are Indian nationals, two are Bangladeshis and one is a Singapore PR, who is reportedly not of South Asian descent. Twenty-six of those arrested will be charged in court today, for the offence of rioting under Section 147 of the Penal Code, Chapter 224. Subsequent investigations revealed that the Bangladeshi nationals were not involved in the incident.

Police interviewed more men from various dormitories, including the Avery Lodge yesterday, and are likely to make more arrests.

When BT visited the scene of the incident yesterday, several plain-clothes security officials were spotted interviewing shopkeepers as well as assessing the positions of CCTV cameras along Race Course Road.

Several leaders and groups came out yesterday to urge calm and to place the incident into perspective, led by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. In a statement released yesterday, Mr Lee described the riot as an isolated incident arising from the unlawful actions of an unruly mob reacting to a fatal traffic accident. "The vast majority of foreign workers in Singapore are law-abiding workers. They contribute to our economy, working hard to earn a living and support their families back home. We must not allow this bad incident to tarnish our views of the foreign worker community here."

In a Facebook posting yesterday, Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, Lawrence Wong, urged the public to keep xenophobia and racial remarks out of the conversation on the riot.

Zainudin Nordin, MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC and chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Manpower, told BT that Singaporeans and the government must be pragmatic in dealing with this incident. For instance, he said calls for employers to be made responsible for their workers' actions after working hours are unreasonable and unrealistic, and bosses cannot be held responsible nor monitor what their workers do outside of work.

Employers can, however, counsel their workforce, including foreign workers, to stay calm and not to react to speculation, the Singapore Business Federation said yesterday in a statement.