1 killed, 9 wounded as Saudi police intervene to quell workers' riot

DUBAI (REUTERS) - At least one expatriate man was killed and nine were wounded when Saudi security forces intervened to quell a riot at a holding facility for foreign workers awaiting deportation near the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi media reported on Monday.

The world's largest oil exporter is holding thousands of foreign workers who failed to correct irregularities in their work visas before an amnesty expired in November last year.

Saudi news websites quoted a spokesman for the Mecca police as saying that the riots erupted on Sunday at the al-Shemaisi holding facility by inmates awaiting processing of their documents before being deported when security forces moved in after they had caused damages to the facility.

"This prompted security men to intervene to deal with them in the appropriate manner to deter them from harming themselves or others," the Sabq online newspaper (www.sabq.org) quoted Captain Aati bin Attiyah al-Qurashi, as saying.

"As a result, about nine ... were hurt and one of them died as a result of pushing and shoving," he said.

Al-Jazirah, another online newspaper, carried a similar report.

Police officials were not immediately available to comment when contacted by Reuters.

The reports did not give a reason for why the riot broke out and had no further details on the nationalities of the affected workers.

A group representing Yemeni expatriates said in an online statement that many Yemenis were at the holding facility and put the death toll at eight, including Yemeni citizens.

But a source at the Yemeni expatriates ministry said the Yemeni consulate in Jeddah reported that the dead man was an Egyptian and that four Yemeni workers had been overcome by tear gas fired by Saudi security forces.

Saudi authorities said last year they would no longer tolerate visa irregularities which had caused a black market in cheap foreign labour to flourish in the kingdom.

More than 9 million of Saudi Arabia's 28 million inhabitants are foreigners.

While many of those targeted in the crackdown entered the country legally but later broke the terms of their residence permits by changing jobs, many others were smuggled across the border or came as pilgrims and did not return home.

International human rights watchdogs have criticised Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, for the treatment of foreign workers, and for instituting a "sponsorship" system which gives employers extensive control over foreign employees.

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