Singapore passes temporary law to keep order in Little India

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Singapore has enacted a new law allowing police to continue to take calibrated measures to maintain public order and calm in Little India, the scene of worst riot in 40 years in the city state.

The Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Bill will be effective for a year in the district, where some 400 migrant workers from South Asia rioted when an Indian man was killed in a bus accident on December 8.

The new law is less powerful than the Public Order (Prevention) Act which allows imposition of curfew and use of lethal force if necessary and has been involved on weekly basis to maintain law and order in the area.

Under the law, police will be given power to exclude or ban people from entering the area if their conduct is likely to threaten public order, and to search any vehicle, person or place reasonably suspected to being related to an offence.

It also enacts a general prohibition on alcohol sale, supply and consumption in the area, except under specific conditions, cancel or suspend a permit or licence on short notice if a licensee flouts the alcohol ban.

Second Minister for Home Affairs S Iswaran told parliament that the government has taken steps to address factors that could have contributed to the riot.

But to implement these steps, the government had to invoke on weekly basis a provision under the Public Order (Prevention) Act which was conceived for far graver situations and grants police broad and extensive powers, he said.

The riot left 43 police officers injured and 24 emergency vehicles damaged in the worst outbreak of violence Singapore has seen in the last four decades.

Twenty-three Indian nationals are now facing court charges for rioting while two others have been jailed for 15 weeks each on lesser charge of not leaving the scene when the police ordered them.

Meanwhile, the State-appointed Commission of Inquiry would start public hearing into the riot today. Some 70 witnesses would appear at the hearing which would also look into video footage and surveillance cameras into the rioting.

The Inquiry is chaired by former Supreme Court Judge G Pannir Selvam and the evidence for the hearing is being led by the Attorney General's Chambers in the Subordinate Courts.

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