Work on world's tallest building halted by riot

WORKERS building what will be the world's tallest tower have rioted over low wages and poor conditions.

About 2,500 workers on the Burj Dubai tower and its surrounding housing developments chased and beat up security guards, broke into offices and smashed computers and files. They also destroyed about two dozen cars and construction machines. Damage was estimated at 575,000.

The initial riot, on Tuesday night, started after workers grew angry when buses to their residential camp were delayed after their shifts.

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The workers, employed by the Dubai-based construction company Al Naboodah Laing O'Rourke, returned to the site yesterday but refused to work.

Crowds of workers milled about in the shadow of the grey concrete tower, now 36 storeys tall, while their leaders negotiated with officials from the company and the government.

"Everyone is angry here. No one will work," a labourer said. Other workers complained that skilled carpenters earned only 4.35 per day, with labourers getting 2.30.

A government official who investigates labour issues said workers were also asking Al Naboodah for overtime pay, better medical care and humane treatment by foremen. "They are asking for small things," he said. "I promised them I would sit with them until everything is settled."

The protesting workers are among nearly a million migrants from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China and elsewhere who have poured into Dubai to provide the low-wage muscle behind one of the world's great building booms.

Labour stoppages in Gulf countries have become common recently, with some two dozen strikes last year in the United Arab Emirates alone.

The Burj Dubai will be a spire-shaped, stainless-steel-skinned tower expected to soar far beyond 100 storeys. Its final height is being kept a secret until the 515 million Burj is completed in 2008. A section is to host a 172-room luxury hotel operated by the Italian fashion designer Giorgio Armani.

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