Singapore saw its first riots since 1969 after a bus accident killed an Indian national. The violence took place in the Little India district of Singapore where many Indian and Bangladeshi workers live.
Police say a crowd made up of about 400 people took to the streets to protest the death of the 33-year-old man in the sleepy city-state. Police report 27 foreign nationals from Asian countries were arrested following the riots.
A mob of young men attacked the bus shortly after 9 pm local time. First responders found themselves caught in the middle of the spontaneous violence as they tried to remove the victim’s body from the scene of the accident.
The attack turned into a full-fledged riot, and the 300 police officers that were sent to control the situation had a hard time with protesters. Several vehicles were burned, and authorities reported around 18 people were injured.
Singapore is one of the safest, cleanest cities in the world, and has not seen riots since Chinese and Malay nationals clashed in 1969.
Bridget Welsh, an associate professor of political science at Singapore Management University says the explosion of violence during the riots shouldn’t be surprising, although it is still “shocking” after a simple traffic accident.
“The workers should be able to think that they can go to the police (after the bus crash) and get some sort of justice,” she tells TIME. “So the interesting question is, why didn’t they and why instead they reacted the way they did.”
Welsh says that the tensions are due to the increasing foreign workforce who feel exploited and a resentful native population who believe foreign workers are taking jobs from Singapore citizens.
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said in a statement that the riots in Singapore are unacceptable.
“Whatever events may have sparked the rioting, there is no excuse for such violent, destructive, and criminal behavior.”
“I want to make very clear that the government will not tolerate such lawless behavior. I have asked the police to investigate the matter thoroughly and deal with all aspects of this incident and all persons involved strictly, firmly and fairly according to our law.”
The riots in Singapore are a manifestation of those frustrations on both sides, according to Ms. Welsh. Meanwhile, the government is ready to clamp down dramatically on any future unrest.