Singapore Little India Riots Fuelled by Alcohol as Probe Under Way

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By Divya Avasthy | December 10, 2013 8:47 PM EST

Officials stand around a bus with a smashed windshield following a riot in Singapore's Little India district - Reuters

Alcohol will be banned this coming weekend in Singapore's Little India after local media reported that Sakthivel Kumaravelu, of Indian origin, was in an inebriated state when he was killed in the bus accident, triggering riots in the city state.

On the fateful night, 33-year-old Kumaravelu was reportedly drunk when he forcefully tried to board the bus which was already full. He is said to have misbehaved when asked to alight from the bus.

As he was getting off, he was crushed by the rear left wheel when the vehicle made a left turn.

When the police team was trying to extricate his body, still pinned under the wheel, a crowd gathered at the scene throwing bottles and projectiles at the crew, while yelling obscenities in Tamil, according to reports.

"In perspective, this is a spontaneous act. It is not something politically motivated. At a broad, strategic level, it is something new after a long time," Bilveer Singh, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore's department of political science, told Bloomberg.

Though it is premature to pinpoint the cause of the unusual riots triggered by the fatal accident, S Iswaran, Second Minister for Home Affairs, said it was "plausible that alcohol consumption was a contributory factor", according to The Straits Times.

He said the details of the ban, such as for what period of time it would apply and the geographical area it would cover, remain to be worked out.

Lui Tuck Yew, Transport Minister and member of parliament from the district, said he wanted a ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol for some time in view of the recent proliferation of liquor licences in the area.

Lim, the driver, also known as Ah Huat, was attacked by the mob who threw stones at him. The 55-year-old driver sustained injuries to his head, neck, back, arms and legs, his daughter told the Singapore daily.

He was arrested for negligent driving, but is reportedly out on bail. He has undergone surgery for the neck injury.

The driver ferried the workers from their dormitories in the Jurong industrial estate to Little India and back.

As many as 27 South Asian workers, including 24 Indians, were arrested for the alleged rioting. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has ordered a probe into the riots, the worst in over 40 years.

"I have directed the Ministry of Home Affairs to convene a Committee of Inquiry (COI) to look into this serious incident. The COI will look into the factors that led to the incident and how the incident was handled on the ground," Lee said in a statement.

Widening Inequality

The influx of foreign workers, who now constitute about a third of the total workforce, has led to widening inequality in the country as measured by the Gini coefficient which rose by 0.005 between 2011 and 2012, according to the statistics department.

The National Wages Council had recommended raising the pay of low-wage Singaporean workers in 2012, in view of the widening income disparity in the past decade.

In February this year, the government announced that companies must pay higher levies for lower-skilled foreign employees over the next two years in an effort to scale down the import of foreign labour, while permits for overseas labour were tapered down in some industries. 

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