The trouble started after a private bus hit and killed Sakthivel Kuaravelu on Sunday night in ‘Little India,' a precinct of Indian-origin businesses, eateries and pubs.

Singapore faced shocking scenes of burning cars and littered streets on Monday following a riot by South Asian workers in the worst outbreak of violence in more than 40 years in the tightly controlled city-state.

The hour-long disturbances on Sunday night, triggered when an Indian construction worker was struck and killed by a private bus in the Little India district, compelled Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to order the creation of a special committee to investigate the incident.

Police said about 400 people were involved in the riot, and that 27 South Asian workers had been arrested on charges punishable by up to seven years in prison as well as caning.

Mr. Lee said there could be “no excuse” for the rampage that left 39 police and civil defence staff injured, and 25 vehicles — including 16 police cars — damaged or torched. He reminded Singaporeans that “the vast majority of foreign workers here obey our laws. We must not let this bad incident tarnish our views of workers here. Nor should we condone hateful or xenophobic comments, especially online”.

Mr. Lee added that the committee of inquiry to be convened by the Interior Ministry would review the factors that led to the riot, as well as existing measures to manage areas where foreign workers congregate.

Singapore is one of the wealthiest places in the world, but the island republic of 5.4 million people depends heavily on guest workers, with labourers from South Asia dominating sectors like construction.

Widely regarded as one of the world’s safest societies, the city-state prides itself on social order and racial harmony, and many citizens expressed dismay over the mayhem.

Police said the 27 men arrested were aged between 23 and 45, and included 24 Indian nationals, two Bangladeshis and one Singapore permanent resident.

Analysts played down suggestions that the riot, which was brought under control by elite police commandoes, could be an indication of wider discontent among poorly paid migrant workers.

The incident triggered online attacks on foreign workers, whose large presence has been a hot political topic in recent years. Others called for calm and warned against stoking racial hatred.

The victim was identified as Sakthivel Kumaravelu (33), who worked for a scaffolding company.

Cause of the riot

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew, an MP for the affected district, said the cause of the riot was still unclear, but that “alcohol could have been a contributory factor”.

There have already been calls to curb alcohol consumption in public places in the congested Little India precinct.

Sunday’s violence was the first riot in Singapore since racial disturbances in 1969. Since then, the government has imposed strict controls on protests.

Ethnic Chinese make up 74 per cent of Singapore’s resident population of 3.8 million, with Malay Muslims accounting for 13.3 per cent, followed by ethnic Indians, Eurasians and other racial groups.