Channel NewsAsia
Updated: 12/24/2013 13:47 | By Channel NewsAsia

Little India riot is a good reminder for Singaporeans: PM Lee

Little India riot is a good reminder for Singaporeans: PM Lee

Little India riot is a good reminder for Singaporeans: PM Lee

SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said that the riot in Little India is a good reminder to Singaporeans that even in a stable society, such an incident can happen.

What is important, he added, is to have a Home Team that can deal with the situation in a calibrated, thoughtful and decisive way.

Mr Lee was speaking to reporters after having breakfast at Rochor Neighbourhood Police Centre with about 40 officers, who were among the first responders at the scene of the riot and had a chance to tell him what they went through that night.

Mr Lee commended them for doing a good job.

He also thanked them personally, and said he had a lot of respect for how they carried out their duties.

For about two hours, the Prime Minister sat with them, listening and questioning every single one of the officers, who had a personal story about the night of December 8.

They spoke about being hit by projectiles -- bricks, beer bottles, rocks, anything the mob could get their hands on. They also spoke of fearing for their life.

The Rochor Neighbourhood Police Centre is located about five minutes away from the site of the riot at Race Course Road.

On the night of the riot, officers from the police centre were one of the first few responders to the scene.

22-year-old full-time National Serviceman (SCDF), Corporal Mohd Mahadhir Rosechan, recounted how he was attacked when he extricated the body of Indian national Sakthivel Kumaravelu from under the bus.

Mohd Mahadhir said: "I was hit on my left ribs and right knee. (What hit me were) most likely projectiles. (I was particularly concerned about) not being able to get home; every single one of us, I believe, had that mindset but as time goes by, that mindset went away because we know this is our task."

25-year-old Lieutenant (LTA) Tiffany Neo, Duty Commander at Central Fire Station, SCDF, was in charge of the paramedic team onsite.

Tiffany said: "When we were transporting the deceased from under the bus to the private ambulance, some of them actually came forward, pushed us, shoved us, some actually hit us with their bare hands.

“So it's quite a challenge to even bring the deceased to the ambulance. Then from there, we went back to the bus to get the driver and the assistant, and from there we also had a lot of difficulty getting them out, because there were people throwing projectiles at us from all directions."

Still, they carried on with their duties.

Those deployed that night included riot police officers from the Special Operations Command unit and even the K-9 unit.

There were stories of courage as uniformed personnel moved in to protect each other as well.

Kamisah Hanafi, Staff Sergeant at Singapore Police Force, said: "I was rushing to my partner. He was also being bombarded by all these projectiles. So as I was with him, that's when I got hit by the broken concrete slab."

"Definitely I was afraid of my own safety but I would say I still feel protected because I know that my men are around me.

“If something were to happen to me, I know that they will pull me out of the scene. If it were to happen to them, I'll do the same thing. So we knew that everybody is looking after each other's backs."

Staff Sergeant Kamisah sustained injuries to her abdomen and arm.

And for their acts of courage that night, they received first-hand thanks from the Prime Minister.

Prime Minister Lee said he has a lot of respect for how they carried out their duties.

Going forward, Mr Lee was asked if policy makers should think about a new social compact with foreign workers.

He said those are broader issues that should be dealt with, only after the Committee of Inquiry (COI) releases its findings.

Mr Lee said: "I think first we deal with this riot and the problems, and then after we have got the COI and we have identified what caused this, were there deeper causes or was this an incident of a riotous mob isolated in Little India on that evening, then we can discuss whether this raises broader questions for our society.

“I do not accept that we must straight away ask whether fundamental approaches or the whole way of how society is organised needs to be re-thought immediately. Let's establish what caused this."

Mr Lee added authorities are also looking at ways to strengthen the police force by beefing up resources and employing technology.

One area being considered is the use of wearable cameras for officers.

Second Minister for Home Affairs S Iswaran said: “In some jurisdictions, they are worn by beat officers. In other jurisdictions, those involved in traffic police type of activities, I think they serve different purposes. It also provides a different source of information if there is a particular incident.

“The key thing is the technology has to be robust and relevant and applicable to the operating context of our officers. So I think we want to be sure and this is why the police are making the evaluation and we will progressively consider its implementation.”

Mr Iswaran also weighed in on the ongoing court proceedings against the persons allegedly involved in the riot.

So far, the prosecution has dropped charges against a total of 10 of the alleged rioters.

This includes three Indian nationals, who were issued formal police advisories on Monday.

This means they are allowed to stay on in Singapore and continue with their employment, on condition of continued good behaviour.

He said: "This is all part of the due process, and I think the police and the attorney-general chambers have to proceed on the basis of the evidence that is available, and then, their assessment of what charges can be brought about or what action can be taken based on the evidence.

“So in this instance, the three individuals who had their charges withdrawn, the assessment was that an advisory should be issued. If you think back previously, there were seven individuals who also had their charges withdrawn, of whom four were issued stern warnings and repatriated, and three others, they were given the advisories as in the case of the current three.

“So I think, we have to allow due process to take its course and we also have to ensure that the attorney-general chambers and the police are able to act on the basis of the evidence available and the evidence that is uncovered in the course of investigations. This is a complex matter and I think we should allow the agencies and the government officers to do their work."  - CNA/fa/nd

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