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Little India riot: Misunderstanding fuelled riot, says COI

SINGAPORE — A misunderstanding over what had happened in the traffic accident that killed a construction worker, and over the response by the Singapore Civil Defence Force and police were among the factors that contributed to the riot at Little India last year, said the Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the Little India riot.

Riot in Little India on Dec 8, 2013. Photo: Ooi Boon Keong

Riot in Little India on Dec 8, 2013. Photo: Ooi Boon Keong

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SINGAPORE — A misunderstanding over what had happened in the traffic accident that killed a construction worker, and over the response by the Singapore Civil Defence Force and police were among the factors that contributed to the riot at Little India last year, said the Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the Little India riot.

While the primary cause of the riot was the occurrence of the fatal accident, the COI, in its report released today (June 30), identified three causes which fuelled the escalation of the riot.

The other two factors were certain cultural and psychological elements present in the crowd and the consumption of alcohol by some members of the crowd.

The riot, which occurred on Dec 8 last year, was triggered after a private bus ferrying foreign workers back to their dormitories knocked down and killed 33-year-old Sakthivel at the junction of Race Course Road and Hampshire Road at around 9.20pm.

In its 76-page report, the COI — chaired by former judge of Supreme Court G Pannir Selvam — said it found that the crowd had misunderstood the first responders, thinking that the SCDF and police officers at the scene were protecting bus driver Lee Kim Huat and bus assistant Wong Geck Woon, instead of arresting them for the accident.

The crowd also felt a desire for “street justice” — which occurs in countries such as India — where they take things into their own hands when they feel that the authorities cannot mete out punishment, said the COI.

Although alcohol was a major contributory factor, it was not a direct cause of the riot, added the COI.

The COI said the riot was also not about racial or ethnic issues and it was not premeditated or planned. The riot was a purely a criminal riot with no motivation and comprised of a very small minority of foreign workers, said the COI.

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