More than 600 Asian labourers were arrested in Sharjah yesterday after a violent protest in the Al Nahda district, reports the WAM newsagency.

The riot, which took over three hours to contain, saw workers from Sharjah-based Tiger Contracting Company block roads with building materials and attack police with stones and bricks from the upper storey of a building under construction, said the report.

According to UAE daily Gulf News, four policemen and three workers were hospitalised with minor injuries. Over 600 people were detained by the Sharjah, Abu Dhabi and Dubai Police.

Brigadier Humaid Mohammed Al-Hudaidi, director general of Sharjah Police, was quoted as saying the rioting was not connected to labour disputes, and that the workers, from India, Afghanistan and Pakistan would be dealt with by the courts.

According to Ministry of Labour officials, construction workers at the contracting firm receive between AED 750 and 850 (US$ 204 to 231) following a salary increase in February.

The protest in Sharjah follows a protest by hundreds of angry workers in Ajman rioted in their labour camp on Monday after demands for better pay and benefits were refused.

UAE daily Khaleej Time reported that over 400 workers went on a "violent rampage" after their request for a AED 200 (US$ 54) rise in their food allowance and a AED 5 (US$ 1.36) rise in overtime payments was refused.

The Ajman unrest follows a massive riot in Sharjah last month when 1500 workers damaged and set fire to offices, property and vehicles in another protest over low pay and poor working and living conditions.

There has been a string of violent protests in the region over the last 12 months as the falling value of the US dollar, to which the UAE and other Gulf countries peg their currencies, has seen the relative value of workers' salaries crash.

With the rupee appreciating more than +12% against the US dollar in 2007 many fear the supply of cheap labour may dry up, especially as India is expanding its own infrastructure networks at a rapid pace.

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