First priority is to find cause of Little India riot: PM Lee

(From left) Sgt Muhammad Syahiir, 22, Minister S. Iswaran, SCDF Lta Tiffany Neo, 25, SCDF Paramedic Nur Elfyana, Cpl Mohd Mahadir, 22, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's wife, Ms Ho Ching, Cpl Fauzi Zulkefli, 24, Cpl Tan Xuan Ren, 22, SI Nio Beng
(From left) Sgt Muhammad Syahiir, 22, Minister S. Iswaran, SCDF Lta Tiffany Neo, 25, SCDF Paramedic Nur Elfyana, Cpl Mohd Mahadir, 22, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's wife, Ms Ho Ching, Cpl Fauzi Zulkefli, 24, Cpl Tan Xuan Ren, 22, SI Nio Beng Khoon, 36, and Mr Lee on Tuesday, Dec 24, 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, Mr Lee also said yesterday. -- ST FILE PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Broader issues such as social policies can be addressed later

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."

chinlian@sph.com.sg

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