Thursday 26 December 2013

PM Lee thanks home team officers who dealt with the Little India Riot

First priority is to find cause of riot: PM Lee
Broader issues such as social policies can be addressed later
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 25 Dec 2013

THE Committee of Inquiry investigating the Little India riot must first ascertain why the melee occurred, before broader issues of whether social and population policies need to be re-thought can be addressed.

One priority now is to ensure a similar incident does not happen again, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also said yesterday.

"I think we deal with... what led to the riot and then the broader issues we can argue and debate," he told reporters, adding that these issues, which could extend to the "entire" social and population policy, must be dealt with separately. "I do not accept that we must straight away ask whether fundamental approaches or the whole way our society is organised needs to be re-thought immediately."

For now, one lesson is that incidents like the Dec 8 riot can break out in a stable society, but it is important to have a well-trained Home Team that can deal with them in a measured and decisive way. Mr Lee was speaking to reporters after spending over an hour listening to dramatic accounts from 38 officers who were the first responders in the riot, which involved about 300 people of mostly South Asian origin.

Over breakfast at Rochor Neighbourhood Police Centre, the officers recalled how they were assailed with projectiles amid rescue work and crowd control.

"It's very useful to me when I'm reading the reports and deciding what to do next, to have that almost first-hand feel of what happened that night," Mr Lee said.

While some have been in the force for 20 years, others, including three full-time national servicemen, have not been in the job for long. But all of them, hailing from the Police Special Operations Command, Traffic Police, Tanglin and Central police divisions, police dog unit, as well as the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), have undergone the necessary drills and training to perform their duties, Mr Lee noted.

He added: "I have a lot of respect and I was impressed with the way they explained what they were going to do, and how they planned and acted. It was not on the spur of a moment, but their years of training, as well as their collectedness, their calm and their courage at the key moment."

He thanked the officers for a good job in a "most serious and most unfortunate incident".

"I came to express my appreciation and to encourage them to continue to do their duty as Singaporeans expect them to," he added.

Despite online criticism of their actions during the riot, he advised them to remain focused. "My advice to the officers is - you do the right thing, you know you have done the right thing, you have confidence that eventually this will come out, and we will back you up." He also revealed that the Home Team has been experimenting with wearable cameras and other technologies to boost their operational effectiveness.

Lieutenant Tiffany Neo, 25, in her first year in the SCDF, said she was aware of the danger that night, but remained focused: "The only thing running through my mind was the safety of my men and getting the job done."

Riot: Officers recount encounter with mob
Home Team officers relate first-hand accounts at meeting with PM Lee
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 25 Dec 2013

STANDING 1.6m and weighing no more than 55 kg, Lieutenant Tiffany Neo was a picture of composure yesterday as she related the riotous events on that fateful night in Little India.

The 25-year-old led a team of nine officers from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) that extricated the body of Indian national Sakthivel Kumaravelu from underneath a bus and carried him to an ambulance.

As the mob grew more aggressive, they returned to the bus to rescue its driver and his assistant, aided by police officers with shields. Her story was one of the first-hand accounts Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong heard at a breakfast meeting that was attended by the Home Team first responders.

Lt Neo recalled: "(The crowd) kept coming forward and we were shoved. We had to push them back. Some of them even came forward and hit us with their hands.

"There were one or two instances when one of the crowd members came forward to help to push the crowd back as well, but he also got pushed back into the crowd in the confusion."

While most of the officers suffered bruises and scrapes, one of her men, Corporal (NS) Mohammad Mahadhir Rosechan, 22, injured his left ribcage and right knee.

Paramedic Nor Aisyah and her crew had a narrow escape as rioters set fire to their ambulance.

The 27-year-old recounted that as the mob turned violent, they received orders to reverse the ambulance and leave.

But someone shattered its windscreen and the driver had cuts on his face. Staff Sergeant Nor Aisyah was also hurt by a concrete slab that flew through a window.

She and her crew moved to the vehicle's rear for safety and also called out to four policemen to seek shelter in their ambulance.

Then, someone tried to snatch the keys of their ambulance.

She said: "One of my medics tried to fend him off. My driver managed to talk to one of the rioters, asking why are they throwing things at us, we are here to help. They just told us to get out because they want to burn (the ambulance)."

It was a dangerous situation as there were highly flammable oxygen tanks in the ambulance.As they hatched a plan to escape, she began to panic. One of the policemen "just grabbed my shoulders and said 'Listen, you must be strong and we have to rally'".

Yesterday was her first day back in the area. There was a lingering fear, she admitted, but believed it would be overcome with time.

Officers at frontline recall horrors of riot
SCDF compiles accounts by first response teams, shares info with public
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 27 Dec 2013

WITH two police vehicles suddenly set ablaze right in front of her, Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) paramedic Nor Aisyah stood stunned, thinking this was the end.

Already hurt earlier in the leg by a concrete slab that was hurled through the broken window of her ambulance, the staff sergeant snapped herself back to attention when she realised that a crush of rioters had converged around the vehicle she was in.

Some of the rioters were beginning to reach through the broken windows and going for the keys in the ignition.

A police officer who had sought shelter in the ambulance turned to her and said: "You have to run or you will be burned alive in the ambulance."

As they sprinted to safety, the rioters turned their attention to the vehicle, which was carrying highly flammable oxygen tanks.

"Just as I thought the episode was over... I stood still and witnessed my very own ambulance, Alpha 111, burn from afar," Staff Sgt Nor Aisyah said.

Her account was one of several compiled into a special report and shared with the public by the SCDF on its Facebook page on Christmas Day.

In the Facebook post, the SCDF thanked members of the public for the notes of appreciation it received following the Little India riot on Dec 8 that left 25 government vehicles damaged and some 39 police, SCDF and auxiliary officers injured.

Other accounts by first responders include that of four Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (DART) specialists, who recalled the terror of driving towards the accident scene, even as their vehicle was pelted with concrete slabs, bricks and trash cans.

The duty fire officer remembered how policemen at the scene protected firefighters and casualties from the rioters' wrath.

"They formed an outer ring, and with their shields, they led us towards the ambulance," said Captain Huang Rong Shen, whose team was tasked with escorting the bus driver and timekeeper to safety. "As we hurried ourselves, a huge brick hit one of the police officers on his head," Capt Huang remembered.

Even after the DART officers stopped their rescue vehicle, the projectiles did not stop. Instead, more bricks were flung inside, the shattered glass injuring the rescuers inside.

Rioters began to surge towards their vehicle, some with fire bombs in their hands. "We had no idea what they were made of, but we knew that it could potentially set our SRT ablaze," said a DART specialist who was on board. The SRT is a special rescue vehicle used by the DART team.

"We knew we had to leave the scene."

Drop in Christmas reservations at some Little India eateries
By Kimberly Spykerman, Channel NewsAsia, 24 Dec 2013

Some popular eateries in Little India have seen as much as a 30 per cent dip in the number of reservations for Christmas Day.

They said it is unusual, since tables are always full at this time of the year as customers celebrate the festive season with family and friends.

But the eateries said the drop in reservations is not unexpected, as the area is still recovering from the riot that took place on December 8.

This is despite efforts to attract diners with special menus and dishes, including turkey tandoori and turkey masala.

Some outlets are hoping that walk-in diners can make up for the shortfall in group reservations, which usually comprise families, tourists, and corporate groups.

Subramani Stalin, restaurant manager at Muthu’s Curry, said: "Last year, we were getting 20 to 25 reservations. This year, (we received) lesser-- 10 to 12 reservations."

G Shanmugam, owner of Gayatri Restaurant, said: "I hope the Christmas festivities will be as good as last year's. We also had two weeks of bad business at Little India because of the riot."

It has been almost three weeks since the riot took place along Race Course Road, and while the crowds have started to slowly trickle back into the area, shopkeepers and restaurant owners said this is still some way off from being back to normal.

And they said this could be due to the perception that Little India is not safe.

Liquor sellers are also hoping Christmas Day will bring better business. But they also intend to stick closely to the licensing restrictions on the sale of alcohol.

R M Suresh, managing director of Pamban Trading, said he locks the fridge that stores alcohol in the shop, so that customers will not buy alcohol outside permitted hours.

Doing this means he will not get into trouble, unlike Yeo Buan Heng Liquor Shop along Chander Road.

The liquor store’s licence was suspended by the police after it was found to have sold a can of beer after the permitted hours of 6am to 8pm over the weekend.

The store's proprietor said she had already closed for the night, but made the sale after a persistent customer repeatedly asked her to.

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