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Little India riot: 18 injured, 27 arrested

SINGAPORE — Chaos broke out in Little India last night (Dec 8), after a crowd of hundreds surrounded a coach at the junction of Race Course Road and Hampshire Road that knocked down and killed an Indian national.

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SINGAPORE — Chaos broke out in Little India last night (Dec 8), after a crowd of hundreds surrounded a coach at the junction of Race Course Road and Hampshire Road that knocked down and killed an Indian national.

The riot, which the police said involved about 400 people, broke out around 9.30pm. The police said 27 South Asians have been arrested. More could be hauled in as investigations continue. The case has been classified as rioting with dangerous weapons.

In total, there were 18 casualties including 10 police officers, four Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) personnel, as well as the coach driver - whom the police said is Singaporean - and his assistant. Six remained at Tan Tock Seng hospital overnight but their conditions were “not serious”, the authorities said. 

Writing on Facebook at close to 3am, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the riot was a “very grave incident”. “Several police officers were injured, and vehicles damaged or destroyed. The situation is now under control, and investigations are underway.” he said.

“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.”

The incident began after the SCDF was alerted at 9.25pm to a road accident in Little India. In a statement, SCDF said that a man was trapped under the bus when its officers arrived on the scene and a paramedic pronounced the man dead. While SCDF rescuers were extricating the body using hydraulic rescue equipment, “projectiles” were thrown at them, the statement said. 

Eye witnesses told TODAY that they heard shouting before a crowd that had gathered at the scene started hurling bottles and rubbish bins at the police and SCDF vehicles. The crowd became more rowdy and threw more items including metal grates, baskets, vegetables and pieces of road dividers at law enforcement personnel.

Several police cars were overturned and five vehicles - three police vehicles, an SCDF ambulance and a motorbike - were burnt. In total, five police vehicles and nine SCDF vehicles were damaged.

A press conference was held after 2am at the Ministry of Home Affairs. It was chaired by Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean, who was flanked by Second Home Affairs Minister S Iswaran, Police Commissioner Ng Joo Hee and Deputy Police Commissioner T Raja Kumar.

Mr Teo, who visited the scene with Mr Iswaran after the riot was brought under the control, noted the riot started after a crowd reacted to the fatal accident. “The Government will not tolerate such lawless behaviour. I have asked Police to deal with all aspects of the incident, including the traffic accident, what happened immediately after the traffic accident, and all ensuing incidents,” he said. “Police will investigate the matter thoroughly and deal with all the persons involved strictly, firmly, and fairly according to our laws.”

Noting that this was the first case of street rioting in three or four decades, Mr Ng said that in the days ahead, the authorities will pay “extra attention”  to Little India as well as foreign worker dormitories and areas where they congregate.

The police deployed 300 officers - from the Special Operations Command and the Gurkha Contingent - to quell the riot and no shot were fired, said Mr Ng. The situation was brought under control within 1.5 hours.

Twitter and Facebook were abuzz over the incident, with witnesses posting photos and videos, leading Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin to write on his Facebook page: “Stay calm. Don’t speculate. Singapore Police Force is on the ground. This is not a game. Nor time for politicking. Our guys are on the line. Support them please.”

Throughout the riot, the police also advised the public to stay away from the area.

One eyewitness told TODAY he saw an ambulance arrive and paramedics attempt to extract the man who was pinned under the coach. When they were unable to, the crowd became incensed and began throwing things at the ambulance, shattering the windscreen.

Ms Faith Su, 31, who was at her relatives’ home near Race Course Road, said she heard the commotion around 9.45pm, when crowds began swarming around the coach, shouting and throwing things. “The situation escalated into a riot, there was overturning of the police cars that had arrived, and it looked like one of them caught fire and it was burning. Things only settled down a bit after the riot police arrived. I (could) still smell the smoke (around 11pm).” 

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