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Singaporeans protest plans to increase immigration

By Liz Neisloss, CNN
February 16, 2013 -- Updated 1406 GMT (2206 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Singapore government wants to increase population by allowing more immigrants
  • Protesters say they worry about losing jobs, overcrowding
  • Government says foreigners are needed to take care of rapidly aging population
  • "Imagine a place where you can be a stranger in your own home," protester says

(CNN) -- Singaporeans don't normally gather in public protest. Decades of single party rule and an iron hand when it comes to dissent has shaped a somewhat meek public. But a proposal by the government to allow more immigrants to come to Singapore in the next few decades to make up for a population shortfall has emboldened citizens to go public.

On Saturday, several thousand Singaporeans gathered in a small downtown park near an area known as "Speaker's Corner" to vent their anger. Organizers estimated the crowd to between 3,000 and 4,000 and said it was the largest gathering since post-independence Singapore in 1965. Singapore police told CNN they don't give crowd estimates.

At the heart of the issue is a so-called "White Paper on Population" recently issued by the government that proposes allowing the population to rise from 5.3 million to as high as 6.9 million by 2030 in order to keep the economy growing and to keep it a magnet country for business.

The government also says foreigners are needed to take care of the country's own rapidly aging population.

Protesters on Saturday insisted they didn't fear foreigners but worry about the loss of Singaporean jobs to foreigners, depressed wages and overcrowding that has taxed Singapore's infrastructure, including housing and transportation. Protesters also say the government's plans will make them a minority in their own country.

"Imagine a place where you can be a stranger in your own home," a protester said.

Like many developed nations, not enough people are having babies. For more than three decades, the country's fertility rate has been below replacement level, meaning Singaporeans aren't having enough babies to replace themselves. This has had a huge impact on a tiny country striving to be a booming economy.

The government has relied on foreigners to fill executive ranks, as well as to perform low-wage jobs from construction to cleaning. While the country is one of the world's wealthiest, it also has an enormous income disparity between rich and poor. Protesters say Singaporeans would have more babies if they were more confident of their economic prospects, and that the government should rely less on cheaper foreign labor and improve the wages of Singaporeans.

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