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Investors will watch response to riot: PM

FOREIGN investors are watching closely to see how Singapore responds to last Sunday's rioting in Little India, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

The incident has triggered much interest from abroad, and understandably so because the incident was such an "unusual" event for the country, he told reporters in Seoul at the end of his two-day official visit.

Two South Korean investors whom Mr Lee met during his trip expressed surprise about the riot - Singapore's first in 44 years - and were eager to hear his views on the situation.

"(They) wanted to have an interpretation (of) what I thought of it, what caused it and what the Singapore government is going to do about it," said Mr Lee in his first extensive comments on the riot that involved about 400 foreign workers.

And with many international media agencies having reported on the event, it is all the more important that Singapore be "very proper" in its response; not just the government but citizens, for their part, need to be responsible and measured in their reactions.

Mr Lee felt that Singaporeans, though shocked at what had happened, have reacted peacefully and calmly so far. His message to the country was to refrain from making unhelpful comments that could make things worse.

"Whether online or anywhere else, we have to exercise some restraint. The anxiety and the alarm is quite understandable but if we express ourselves in unrestrained, unreserved terms and sometimes xenophobic terms even - on the Internet you've seen quite a lot of those - I don't think that is helpful," said the prime minister.

While he promised that the authorities would bring the perpetrators to justice, he said the rule of law must still apply.

"(The riot) has happened, it is bad, we have to deal with it very firmly. (It) is quite unacceptable and there is no reason or justification whatsoever for people to behave like this in Singapore," said Mr Lee.

"But at the same time, we have to be fair to the persons who were not involved. And even for those who were involved, there has to be a due process of law," he added.

When asked if there would be any repercussions on Singapore's foreign worker policy, Mr Lee would only say that the country could not do without this group of people who have helped the country prosper.

"We need the foreign workers. They are here because they are working for us, building trains and houses, working in the shipyards," he said.

"If we didn't have them, we would not be able to achieve our housing or public transport plans, and Singaporeans would be severely affected. We need the foreign workers, and we have to see how we can manage them better," said Mr Lee.

Putting things into perspective, he noted how there are currently more than a million foreign workers in Singapore, 400 of whom were involved in what he called a "localised" riot.

Those found guilty would be treated severely, but for the vast majority of the foreign worker population who are here to make a living and contribute to the Republic's economic growth, he said it would not be right to tar them all with the same brush.

"It would be quite unfair for Singaporeans to look at them all and say they are a problem and we cannot accept them. That is not correct, I think that's not wise," said Mr Lee.

Most of them are law-abiding people. Mr Lee revealed that the government gets a regular update on the number of foreign workers here and other information such as their living arrangements and personal situations. Their crime rate is also lower compared to Singaporeans on average.

Meanwhile, the government will study measures to maintain security and order in the Little India area, including how the transport flow could be made safer for all. For a start, a 48-hour alcohol ban will be effected, starting at 6am tomorrow.

Mr Lee also said that details on the Committee of Inquiry set up to look into the riot would be announced in the next few days, including the names of those on board and the terms of reference.