The violence, causing an estimated $1 million in damage, illustrated the growing unrest among foreign workers who are the linchpin of Dubai's building boom.

The violence erupted on Tuesday night when some 2500 workers on the Burj Dubai tower and surrounding housing developments chased and beat security officers, then broke into temporary offices and smashed computers and destroyed about two dozen cars and construction machines, witnesses said.

When the labourers, who work for the Dubai-based firm Al Naboodah Laing O'Rourke, returned to the vast construction site on Wednesday, they issued demands for better pay and employment conditions and refused to return to work.

In a sympathy strike, thousands of workers building a new terminal at Dubai International Airport also downed tools.

"Everyone is angry here. No one will work," said Khalid Farouk, 39, a labourer with Al Naboodah.

Some 2500 workers joined the
strike at the Burj Dubai site

Others said their leaders were asking for pay raises - skilled carpenters on the site earn just $7.60 a day, with labourers getting just $4 a day.

A spokesman for Al Naboodah Laing O'Rourke blamed the violence on "misinformation and misunderstanding with some of our workforce".

The spokesman, Mark Way, said the workers' concerns had been addressed and resolved.

Workers' representatives could not be immediately reached to confirm that they were returning to the job.

Slave-like conditions

The riot was a rare outbreak of violence - but it was not the first sign of discontent among the foreign workers who form the overwhelming majority of private sector workers in most of the oil-rich countries of the Gulf.

There have been strikes in recent months in Qatar and Oman. In April, Bangladeshi workers stormed their own embassy in Kuwait, protesting against working conditions that human rights activists have denounced as "slave-like".

Millions of foreign workers have flooded into the Gulf nations, outweighing the population of citizens in Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

In Saudi Arabia, foreign workers make up about 21% of the population of more than 26 million, but labour unrest among the workers is rare in the tightly controlled country.

Dubai, one of seven emirates making up the UAE, hosts 300,000 South Asians working on temporary contracts in the construction field alone.