A committee constituted to probe Singapore’s worst riot in 40 years in the Little India precinct has recommended police here to carry a “lathi” in handling violent street protesters, according to a media report on Wednesday.
The chairman of the state-appointed Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the December riot has recommended police here to carry a ‘lathi’ (baton) in handling such street protesters, The Straits Times reported. “Although you have a gun, you don’t use it (and) this (lathi) might be more useful,” the Singapore daily quoted, COI Chairman G Pannir Selvam, as saying during a public hearing on Tuesday on how police initially faced the Little India riots on the night of December 8 last year.
“When you go to a riot, you should not just have a defensive weapon,” Selvam told Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Jonathan Tang, who was explaining how the riot was handled by the police officers who were first to arrive at the scene at Little India. Giving evidence during the hearing, ASP Tang said gun was not fired on the rioters for safety reasons as well as considering the bystanders. Tang said discharging firearms would have reminded the crowd that the police was armed and they (rioters) would have attacked the officers and seized the arms.
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But among the police weapons were T-baton, which was designed to be a defencive tool and effective against close range attacks, he said. At that point, Selvam asked Tang if he knew what a “lathi” was. And to show Tang what he meant, the retired Judge handed the officer a copy of an Indian newspaper showing pictures of the “lathi” being used by the Indian police to successfully put down a recent protest march outside its Parliament.
According to the report, Selvam has brought up the use of “lathi” to quell riot crowds at least on three occasions since the COI public hearing began last Wednesday. Last Friday, Selvam recommended to the Deputy Commissioner of Police T Raja Kumar that the Singapore police force should procure the instruments (lathis).
Earlier in the day, the COI heard that police was outnumbered by the riot crowd and officers at the scene had tried to contain the violence in the Little India, a precinct of Indian-origin businesses, eateries and pubs. Tang said the crowd of 200 soon swelled to some 400 with 150 to 200 throwing projectiles, shouting and instigating others.
The rioters injured 49 police and security officers and damaged more than 650,000 Singaporean dollars worth of properties including 23 emergency cars, five of which were set on fire.