SHARJAH, United Arab Emirates -- Protests and violent skirmishes over rising prices are hitting parts of the Middle East, a region already beset by strife but otherwise enjoying an unprecedented, oil-fueled economic boom.
On Tuesday, hundreds of workers demanding higher wages to counter soaring food costs rioted at an industrial park tucked amid this Persian Gulf emirate's desert scrub. They burned and battered dozens of cars and buses at an American-owned contracting company, then ransacked and set ablaze parts of the company's offices.
Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have all been socked with soaring inflation. Because they peg their currencies to the U.S. dollar, those currencies have followed its sharp fall.
The region is heavily dependent on expatriate labor, many from Southeast Asia, who send much of their earnings home. As the value of their remittances falls with the dollar, they are growing frustrated.
That anger is now increasingly turning into violence. On Tuesday, hundreds of workers for Drake & Scull, an electrical and mechanical engineering contractor owned by U.S.-based Emcor Group Inc., rioted. The government put the number of workers involved at 1,500, while a Drake spokeswoman in Dubai said the number was much lower.
The situation in the Al Sajaa district of Sharjah, where around 1,500 workers of a sewage and maintenance company went on the rampage demanding salary hikes, has been brought under control.
The workers burnt office documents, broke glass facades of the first floor of the labour accommodation building and burnt and damaged vehicles of the company on Tuesday, according to the WAM news agency.
Director General of Sharjah Police Brig. Humaid Mohammed Al Hudaidi, accompanied by the Assistant Undersecretary of the Ministry of Labour, Humaid bin Dimas, labour officials and directors of police departments and civil defence teams rushed to the riot scene.
The anti-riot team surrounded the labour accommodation while the civil defence team put out the fires that had engulfed offices and vehicles.
[Al Hudaidi] called on the workers not to resort to violence and subversion, leading to destabilization in the United Arab Emirates.
- Police quell subversive acts by 1500 labourers in Sharjah -Khaleej Times, United Arab Emirates:
Al Hudaidi noted that some even attempted to attack police and the labour officials at the riot site. He said that 15 days ago the workers had selected their representatives to submit their salary hike demands to the labour office. Based on those demands, the labour officials discussed the demands with the officials of the company, which is owned by a nearby emirate to Sharjah. It set up a labour accommodation site in Al Sajaa district.
“Even before the workers received reply, a group of workers incited them to go on rampage and burnt vehicles and properties of the company,” Al Hudaidi said....
- Emirati Police Break Labor Strike -The Associated Press: "Police said that at least 500 workers carried out "subversive acts" at a work camp in the emirate, or state, of Sharjah, according to the official state news agency, WAM."
- Violent uprising - 7DAYS, United Arab Emirates - Mar 18, 2008, By Fareed Rahman A labour protest turned violent in Sharjah yesterday, with 3000 angry workers setting light to vehicles and a storeroom at their camp.
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