With reporting from Elysia Windrum
Several fire trucks, four buses of riot troops and a handful of ambulances have responded to a brawl at the under-renovation Sheraton Doha hotel this afternoon.
An altercation apparently took place between some construction workers and security guards there, prompting the police response, according to people on site who spoke to Doha News.
A handful of people were treated for minor injuries, Doha News has learned.
A supervisor there said the altercation started because some workers tried to leave on break, but were stopped by security guards. Words and eventually pushing and shoving ensued, he added.
Workers on site told Doha News that the guards would not allow them to step out of line while going on their lunch breaks to use the bathroom and grab a drink of water. They added that the guards struck them with steel rods and stones.
However, others who spoke to Doha News said that many of the workers threw stones and rocks at the guards.
The incident appeared to escalate into the smashing of windows of a portacabin and breaking of scaffolding, witnesses there told Doha News.
A video taken by an employee on the site showed groups of workers swinging large pieces of wood and throwing stones at a portacabin:
Speaking to Doha News, a Lebanese expat who works as an architect for UrbaCon Contracting and Trading (UCC), the main consultant on the Sheraton’s renovation project, said:
“At around 12pm we suddenly started hearing shouting. Everything just went crazy. The workers starting fighting and screaming. They started throwing rocks at the windows of our office and broke the door…
Everyone was shocked. We were trapped inside the office and couldn’t do anything, waiting for transportation for us to arrive so we could escape. When we were escaping there were police and ambulances on site.”
Another UCC employee reiterated a similar experience, and added that the workers were also displeased with their new schedule for Ramadan.
“Their hours for Ramadan are now 6am to 5pm. They’re protesting their new hours of work.”
However, workers who spoke to Doha News said they were not aware of a new schedule, and that they were currently working from 6am to 9pm, with a one-hour break. While Qatar’s summer midday work ban came into effect on June 15, it only covers those working outdoors.
Sheraton has been closed since March as the 32-year-old building undergoes extensive renovations.
At the same time, work is taking place outside the hotel to complete the Sheraton Park Project, which will include a large recreation center and parking lot. Both the hotel renovations and the park are slated for a December completion.
Neither the Sheraton or UCC were immediately available for comment.
By 2pm, a few hours after the fight erupted, Doha News observed that the site was being cleared and that the riot troops remained inside of their buses.
The heavy police presence, however, appeared to rattle some residents, who tweeted questions wondering what happened:
Heard of a protest/tussle between labourers and Security Personal along corniche. Anyone can confirm? @dohanews
— Khanan (@alikhanan) June 25, 2014
— Laura Hamilton (@lauraannham) June 25, 2014
— Miloš Vasić (@Milos_Vasic) June 25, 2014
Protests are rare in Qatar, but due to the high number of construction workers here, are taken very seriously by authorities.
News of the fight sparked conversations online about workers’ treatment in Qatar, which has been under increasing scrutiny in the past few years because the country is hosting the 2022 World Cup.