12/14/2013, 00.00
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Singapore: government clamps down on demonstrations, fears of new riots among immigrants

A road accident triggers revolt in the Indian quarter. After quelling protests the government ensures that similar incidents "will not be repeated." But discontent among foreign workers grows. The prime minister minimizes and promises a "better management" of immigrants. However, experts warn: "need to understand the underlying reasons" for the conflict.

Singapore ( AsiaNews / Agencies) - The government of Singapore promises that the events of last week, the worst of the social upheaval of 1969, "will not be repeated". The executive of the city - state also announced banning the sale of alcohol for this weekend in the enclave where the riots broke out as a "first step". The riots were triggered by a car accident on Dec. 8 that caused the death of a 33 year old Indian immigrant. In response , the community protested in the neighborhood known as "Little India" , where more than 400 workers went on strike.

In the clashes between protesters and police 39 people were injured, including several officers, 25 vehicles were damaged or burnt. In recent days, police reported 31 foreign workers to the court , the majority Indians, who could be tried on charges of inciting riots. They face up to seven years in prison and flogging.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has urged Singaporeans not to let an "isolated incident" tarnish the image of migrant workers, which occurred in recent events. There are more than a million migrants in a city-state that relies on foreign labor, partly because of a decline in population in recent decades imposed by family planning policies . The prime minister has ordered the creation of a special commission of inquiry to shed light on the causes that led to the revolt. "We need immigrants - he added - and we have to figure out how to handle them better."

In response to the demonstrations, the police interrogated more than 4 thousand foreign workers. In contrast, the 55 year-old bus driver (Singapore citizen) who caused the accident was released after paying bail . He is accused of manslaughter by negligence while driving the vehicle.

Government officials and experts deny the possible relationships between the living conditions of migrant workers in Singapore and the uprising earlier this week. They argue it was an isolated incident and point the finger at alcohol, a key factor in exacerbating the minds of the protesters. Little India is a small enclave of the city-state inhabited predominantly by Tamils, on the territory since the days of British colonialism. However, critics point out that the economy and local production are based on the "fundamental" presence of foreign workers.

The latest episode of unrest among migrants dates back to last year, when 171 Chinese immigrants took to the streets protesting against poor living conditions.  It should be added, however, cases of discontent , dissatisfaction and demands so far have never resulted in actual public protests . "We need to understand the underlying reasons for the harsh reaction of the workers to the road accident" says Eugene Tan, a labor law expert and professor at Singapore Management University. "The issue of immigrant labor - he adds - requires an immediate response to prevent a possible lack of confidence of investors."

Smaller than New York and without natural resources, the city-state had a GDP of SGD$ 285 billion in 2010 (US$ 231 billion), posting a 14.5 per cent GDP growth for that year, the strongest in all Asia.

However, wealth is not equally distributed and economic gains have accentuated the disparity between citizens, with an increase in the Gini coefficient - a statistical measure that represents unequal income distribution - to 0.48, up from 0.44 in 2000 (0 means perfect equality and 1 maximal inequality).


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