They raided shops for 'ammunition'
WHEN an intoxicated construction worker boarded a packed bus and dropped his trousers on Sunday evening, it set the scene for Singapore's first riot in more than four decades.
The bus driver wanted him out. Madam Wong, 38, the bus assistant, persuaded Mr Sakthivel Kumaravelu to alight.
The bus driver then quickly closed the bus doors and started to ferry the foreign workers in the bus to Jalan Papan from Tekka Lane.
He did not get very far. He was making a left turn into Race Course Road when he heard a loud bang.
He then discovered that he had knocked down the drunk man, who was pinned under the left rear wheel of the bus.
What followed was pandemonium that ended in a riot involving about 400 people, and 320 policemen to control them.
CROWD GETS UGLY
When Madam Wong alighted to take a look at what happened, she was assaulted and shoved back into the bus.
The bus driver closed the doors to keep the gathering crowds at bay, but a 100-strong mob soon started hurling things at the vehicle.
The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) arrived shortly after and police reached the place a few minutes later at 9.40pm.
The restless crowd grew even more agitated when the SCDF officers tried to extricate Mr Sakthivel's body.
As their numbers rose, the rioters started throwing concrete slabs, stones, rocks, bottles, and even dustbins.
Policemen had to form a human shield to protect SCDF officers from the projectiles.
The police shared these details in a media briefing held at their headquarters in Novena yesterday.
Shop worker Siva Balaji, 29, was manning vegetable stall Guru's Marketing with three others when suddenly a crowd of 30 people swarmed into the shop looking for items to throw at the police.
"They took many things, even this one," he told MyPaper later, pointing to a dented metal rack used to hold boxes of fruit.
He and his co-workers fled to their office upstairs as the crowd hurled everything they could get their hands on at the police.
Just round the corner in Kerbau Road, the rioters grabbed seven plastic chairs and even a large table at Spice Box Restaurant, said manager Matin Ahmed.
Buffalo Road resident Tan Kok Wah said the police's first attempt to quell the crowd by warning them, using a megaphone, to disperse or risk being deported, was met with "cheering and more vandalism", he said.
Only when riot police appeared did things start to calm down. Even then, there was a "stand-off" before they dispersed, the police said.
By then, Mr Sakthivel, the driver and Madam Wong had been sent to hospital.
RIOTERS FLUSHED OUT
The Special Operations Command was activated once police at the scene conveyed the information that there was a mob taking the law into their own hands, the police said.
They arrived at 10.30pm at an assembly point, and had to make their way to the riot location on foot, due to the congestion.
The arrival of the riot squad signalled the end of the incident, with many of the rioters fleeing.
But, by then, they had managed to damage 25 emergency vehicles, 16 belonging to the police, and nine belonging to the SCDF. Five vehicles, including an ambulance, were set on fire.
The police said yesterday that their focus was "dispersing the crowd, breaking them up into smaller groups, with a view to then arresting them".
When MyPaper reached the scene around 11pm on Sunday, the men had just run into the warren of little alleys bounded by Race Course Road and Serangoon Road, and riot police were setting up a cordon in Kerbau Road to flush them out.
The cool night was punctuated by shouts and yells as figures were glimpsed running inside. A man in a dark striped shirt sat on the pavement in handcuffs, looking tired and grim as two policemen stood in front of him. He was later marched off to a police van.
By now, Race Course Road resembled a war zone. An ambulance and police car jammed together were ablaze, with tyres exploding periodically and flames shooting into the sky.
Debris was everywhere, from the streets to the stairwells around Tekka Market. Amid the mess were broken bottles, smashed fruit and plastic crates.
As of yesterday, the police had arrested a total of 27 people aged between 23 and 45 years in connection with the riot. Most of them are Indian nationals, while two are Bangladeshis and one is a Singapore permanent resident.
A total of 22 policemen were injured, while 12 Singapore Civil Defence Force staff had face lacerations and cuts on their hands from projectiles hurled at them. Five auxilliary-police officers were also injured.
The police said they have stepped up their presence in the area, and urged those with first-hand accounts and video footage to come forward.
Additional reporting by Adrian Lim