Top 10 Deadliest Riots and How They Started


Riots occur when people are hungry; hungry for food, knowledge, and even power. We all know what a riot is and how tragic they can be when they turn deadly. Most riots happen when a large group of people are unhappy with a certain event or a certain person or group of people. Riots often times begin as peaceful displays, but overtime, as unrest grows and the police force is called in for action, rioters will become violent and the police will react. This often leads to injuries and sometimes deaths.  Of course, not all riots are deadly, but below are ten of the deadliest riots that have ever occurred. While the riots may have been justified, the deaths surely weren’t.

10. Soweto uprising – 600 dead

The Soweto uprising began on June 16, 1976 in Soweto, South Africa because of the government of the time. During 1976, the government was run by the National Party, which was known for its racial segregation, also known as apartheid. South Africans who weren’t given equal living opportunities as Caucasians. Blacks had to pay for schools to stay open through taxes, even though many of them were poor and weren’t able to contribute the necessary amount of money. Those who were unhappy with the governments rule clashed with authorities, which then lead to about 600 deaths.

How it started

The uprising took about 10 years to really gain ground, but once it did, there was no stopping the young, high-school aged men and women from standing up for their rights. In 1953, a law was passed that created the The Bantu Education Act, which was to establish a learning curriculum that was designated for blacks. Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd was the pushing force behind the act as he believed that blacks needed to be taught that they would never be equal to Europeans. While they were able to learn some things, those students who did attend the various schools set up for them only learned skilled that would require labor. None of them were taught to do things that would put them above whites. As time went on, more restrictions were put on African American education. Blacks, in 1972, were told that they would only be taught in Afrikaans, which was the white man’s language. This infuriated students, who were already angry about the lack of education, the lack of money, and the lack of rights. Teachers refused to teach in Afrikaans and many staged in-class boycotts. Once this was realized, police were sent in, and various other boycotts, which eventually turned into a riot, took place.

How it ended

By the end of it all, 600 citizens were dead. Many of them weren’t older than 18 as most of them were still in high school. After citizens began throwing bottles, stones, and setting buildings on fire, the police force began to use violence to settle the crowd, which eventually killed many. Many of those who were still alive after this tragedy left South Africa. Today, June 16 is now celebrated as Youth Day. The day was made to remember and honor all of the young men and women who died during the uprising to have their voice heard.

9. 1977 Egyptian Bread Riots – 800 dead

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From January 18-19 of 1977, Egyptian Bread Riots took over most of the largest cities in Egypt. There wasn’t much evidence that would have lead anyone to believe that the lower class people were planning to riot. Of course, not all riots can be spotted before they really form, and this is just one example. However, it was pretty obvious that the economic reforms Anwar El Sadat was making weren’t going to make those in the lower class pleased.

How it started

In 1974, president of Egypt, Anwar El Sadat, moved his focus towards economic change in the country. He wanted to adopt an open-door policy, otherwise known as Infitah, which would help to greatly encourage domestic as well as foreign investment. However, this was a huge change for Egypt, as the previous president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, had a completely opposite goal, which ultimately led the economy in route to no private investment and nationalizations. With a new president in place, Sadat was really looking to become closer with the U.S. and completely rid of positive neutralism so that the country’s economy would attract more foreign investors. The conflict began when Sadat took loans from the World Bank to provide subsidies, including food. In 1977 it was announced that the government planned to cancel $30 million in subsidies, especially on food. Bonuses and pay rises were also cancelled.

How it ended

Because of these cancellations, people throughout Egypt were mad. Many who worked in factories or for the country’s state government walked out of work and rushed into the cities to participate in demonstrations. People from all over, including Cairo and Alexandria joined the fight to get rid of these new laws and cancellations. Citizens began burning buildings, cutting railway lines, and blocking trains from leaving. The riots were ended after the army was deployed to control the crowd and restore peace and order. However, the government decided to cancel the new policies that were in place. This pleased the crowd and the rioting did eventually stop.

8. Bombay Riots 1992-1993– 900 dead

From December 1992 to January 1993, the Bombay riots took prevalence in various cities. Both Muslims and Hindus were killed during the riots, which were said to be attended by 150,000 people, if not more. With so many people crowding together, it’s no wonder that deaths and injuries occurred. Various stories of the riots have been used in movies as well as in literature.

How it started

The riots were fueled by news of the demolition of the Babri Masjid, which was a mosque in Ayodhya, India by the Liberhan Commission. The demolition of this mosque sparked a lot of anger in the city, as many believed that the government would protect the mosque from being torn down; however, this didn’t happen, and as news spread of the demolition, more and more people gathered to express their emotions. People flooded the streets, often attacking public property, including buses. As crowds and violence grew, the police force grew violent as well. Several shots were fired, which killed many and the Muslims and Hindus began to fight amongst themselves. After this, riots sparked in Dongri, in which Hindus revenged against the Muslims after Hindu workers were killed. The violence continued and the police force grew more restless, continuing to kill rioters. However, rioters continued their violence as well.

How it ended

Once the riots died down after the Hindus and Muslims came together to save the Islamapura mosque , the damage in various cities was already done; $3.6 million worth of damage. By the end of it all, 900 people were dead and about 2,000 were injured. However, soon after the Bombay riots ending, the Bombay bombings occurred that killed about 250 people. While riots are never a good memory, various movies have been made to depict the rioting that occurred, the most recent film being Slumdog Millionaire. Other movies have also used the riots are part of the plot.

7. Bloody Sunday 1905 – 1,000 dead

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Out of all of the riots on this list, Bloody Sunday is definitely one that many will remember, and sadly the one that turned for the worst. Thousands of Russian citizens were peacefully demonstrating in the streets of Russia to give a petition to Czar Nicolas II. However, the peaceful gathering soon turned deadly when the czar’s secret police force arrived and shot many of the demonstrators, despite the fact that they were doing nothing wrong.

How it started

Before the riot that took place on January 22, 1905 in St. Petersburg, various citizens in Russia, mostly those who worked in factories and were considered part of the lower class, were looking for a way to notify the czar of the horrible working conditions that they had to suffer through each day. Lead by Father Gapon, the crowd of people decided that a petition given to the czar would be the best way to get the word directly to the source. Almost 300,000 citizens, many of them workers and their families, walked to the Winter Palace, where they sang hymns, held religious symbols, and even sang songs praising the czar. However, when the crowd started to near the palace, the guards fired warning shots, but they continued on, and this sparked the police to shoot randomly within the crowd, despite the fact that this riot was peaceful. The crowd dispersed and violence erupted, which only caused a lot of confusion and frantic people.

How it ended

Sadly, after the shots were fired, people were struck and died. But not only did bullets kill people, the rush of people also caused some to fall and in the end they were trampled to death. The riot basically ended after the shots were fired and the rioters ran away to avoid being killed. Father Gapon, though not killed during the riot, was later assassinated by order of the government. Today, songs, movies, and books have been made to depict Bloody Sunday.

6. Copper Riot 1662 – 1,000 dead

The Copper Riot 1662 started on July 25 in Moscow. The main force behind the riot was the fact that the Russian economy was on a continuous downfall. This as mostly due to the wars that Russia was having with Sweden and Poland, which in the end caused a huge rise in taxes for Russian citizens. In 1654, to attempt to slow down the problem, the government decided to use copper money which was equated to silver money. The copper money was given out in very large qualities, which then only caused devaluation of the copper money. This then lead to a whole other realm of problems, including profiteering and counterfeit money, and some of those involved in these illegal activities were government officials. All of this along with rumors flying about black lists of names of those who had caused the country’s economy to fail riled up enough people to cause a riot.

How it started

In the middle 1660s, the Russian economy seemed to be on a steady downfall. After supposed black lists full of names of those people who had been somehow responsible for the state of Russia’s economy, many citizens of Russia were infuriated. The names of those said to be to blame were posted in various locations throughout Moscow. The riot began on July 25 in the early morning hours and after the proclamation was made, the rioters made their way into Kolomenskove in order to have a talk with Alexei Mikhailovich, the Czar at the time. They quickly demanded that the traitors be surrendered to them so that the economy can become stable again. Mikhailovich promised full investigations and lower taxes. After this the rioters went back to Moscow, as rioters who did not go to the Kolomenskove were destroying homes of the merchants considered to be traitors. Some of the rioters planned to go back to see the czar, but by that time, a huge military assembled to keep the rioters away. It is said that about 10,000 people, if not more, joined in the riot, many of them Muscovites, including peasants, soldiers, people from the streltsy, and plenty others.

How it ended

With an army force of 6,000-10,000 soldiers, the rioters were most definitely outnumbered. Czar Alexei ordered a full on suppression of the riot. This order eventually led to the death of 1,000 people. Some were drowned in the river, others were hanged. A few of the rioters were simply arrested and put into exile. Even though this riot only lasted the length of a day, those who participated were actually able to persuade the government. In 1663, coinage of copper was abolished, making the riot successful yet very deadly.

5. Romanian Revolution of 1989 – 1,104 dead

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The Romanian Revolution of 1989 proved to be violent from the very beginning, and it only elevated until the fighting ceased, a week after it began. Before the riot, citizens in Romania were unhappy with various things. The first is Nicolae Ceau?escu’s move to entirely wipe out the state’s debt. To do this, he decided to export a large amount of goods from Romania in exchange for international currency. Even if his plan would have worked, most people within the country became increasingly poor and shortages in various items were common. Things such as television, food, clothing, electricity, and plenty of other things were cut short. However, as silly as it sounds, while attempting to lessen the debt, he also held parades and celebrations to celebrate himself and his wife, which only drained more money. People were also very concerned about the country’s secret police, who were seemingly trying to turn the country into a police state. Free speech was taken away, books were censored, radio channels were banned, and no one was to criticize the regime. All of this greatly angered many citizens, and most believed that a revolution was inevitable.

How it started

With a majority of unhappiness spreading throughout the country, it was no surprise that the Romanian government was in serious trouble. The first real protest began on December 16, 1989 when Romanian officials were attempting to get rid of Laszlo Tokes, a dissident. He had spoken out against the government which caused him to lose his job as a pastor, though many citizens stood up for him and found ways to protect him from being evicted from his home. With crowds gathering around Tokes’ home, the police force was called in, and despite the ruling being turned over, the people were furious and did not leave, which meant that the police had to use force to break up the gathering. They were successful in doing so but many regrouped later in the day. The next day a group of rioters broke into the District Committee building and trashed everything, including propaganda and brochures and even attempted to set the building on fire, which failed. As the riot grew worse, the police force was called in, but this proved to be futile, so tanks and armored personnel carriers were called in, as the police was unable to stop the shootings, fires, and fights. Riots continued each day, but the largest occurred on December 21, when nearly 100,000 people came together, many of them shouting anti-government chants and calling for the resignation of Ceau?escu, which did not happen.

How it ended

Rioting continued and the crowds grew larger as Ceau?escu made a visit to Iran. His police force was still unable to control the rioters and because of this, he was forced to give a speech denouncing the riots and explaining how the events were putting the country at risk internally. However, the rioters were hearing none of it and more poured into the streets. To confront them, tanks, soldiers, and troops were all sent in, despite the fact that the rioters were unarmed. Gunfire came from various different buildings, wounding many and killing even more. With the rioting still continuing, Ceau?escu decided that it was time to flee. Thinking that the riots were suppressed somewhat, he opted to leave on the morning of December 22. Ceau?escu along with his wife raced to get into the helicopter that was set to take them to a remote location; however, rioters weren’t far behind him. Though successful at getting off the ground, the pilot, with 6 people in his 4 passenger helicopter, complained of false engine-troubles and landed in a field. Here those in the helicopter attempted to flag down cars to get away, but Ceau?escu was picked up, along with his wife, and arrested. They were put on trial and eventually executed, thus ending the revolution.

4. First Intifada 1987-1993 – 2,326 dead

Though there have been plenty of Intifadas throughout history, this one stands as one of the deadliest. The First Intifada began on December 8, 1987 when an Israeli army tank somehow got into an accident with Palestinians at the Erez Crossing who lived on the Gaza strip at the Jabalia refugee camp which killed four and seriously injured seven others. However, the Palestinians believed that this was no accident, as a few days earlier a Jewish man was stabbed to death in a nearby location. With this and long record of hostility between the Palestinians and Israelis, riots started to erupt in various locations.

How it started

For a pretty long time, the Palestinians and the Israelis have had nothing short of bad history. During the First Intifada, the Palestinians were outraged that Israelis were occupying Palestinian territories, including the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. They say that the Israelis had been deporting and executing Palestinians. Because of this, people began to gather and decided to show their disapproval at the Jabalia refugee camp, which then lead to various other uprisings in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem.  Even though by the end of it all 2,326 were dead, the riot did start out very peaceful. The Palestinians practiced resistance, strikes, barricades, tax refusal, and other methods that weren’t harmful to anyone. However, these acts eventually turned very violent and deadly and much more widespread. During the riots, plenty of Palestinian leaders were killed, including Abu Jihad. By the end of it all, 2,326 people were dead, and scores more injured.

How it ended

The riots began to die down in 1991, was the Palestinians weren’t getting anywhere and a clear direction was no longer in site. Palestinian people were being slaughtered each day, and the Palestine Liberation Organization was losing members. However, the Intifada did change numerous things. For one, the decision to combine Palestinian areas with Jordan was no longer considered. Also, many countries, including the U.S. spoke nationally about Israel’s wrong-doings, which isn’t something that many countries do. The rioting also brought about plenty of international discussion as to who should own the Gaza Strip and various other locations.

3. Direct Action Day 1946 – 4,000 dead

The image is the photograph of a predominantly Muslim crowd assembled at the foot of the Ochterlony Monument (now known as the Shahid Minar) in Kolkata, to attend a meeting of the Muslim League on the Direct Action Day (16 August 1946).

The image is the photograph of a predominantly Muslim crowd assembled at the foot of the Ochterlony Monument (now known as the Shahid Minar) in Kolkata, to attend a meeting of the Muslim League on the Direct Action Day (16 August 1946).

This riot stands as the deadliest Muslim-Hindu riot in history. Direct Action Day, also known as the Great Calcutta Killing, happened on August 16, 1946, and ended with 4,000 people dead and almost 10,000 people homeless. The riot occurred in a place now known as Kolkata, a city in the province Bengal in British India, which at the time was known as Calcutta. During the 1940s Constituent Assembly of India, the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League were at odds when the British government was opting for independence of the Indians. However, this plan did not satisfy everyone, mainly the Muslims who were long seeking an independent and separate Pakistan; however, this plan was shot down without thought. The riot began on the 18th day of Ramadan, and was planned to be peaceful, but turned out to be anything but.

How it started

With plenty of unhappy Muslims because of the decision for Indian independence, Hindus living within Calcutta were attacked on a massive level. Muslims used clubs, knives, guns, and other weapons to kill any Hindu they saw, including young children and women. Some even say that women were beaten, raped, and buried alive. The unhappy rioters would even stone offices and set various businesses on fire. To get revenge, the Hindus then began to attack Muslim mosques as well as the Muslim slums. The fighting not only caused death, but thousands of injuries as well as shortages within the city. Those who survived were often left homeless and had to wander to look for food as well as some place of safety.

How it ended

The rioting seemed to end and die down on the 21st day of Ramadan, and at this time an estimated 4,000 people were dead, though some sources have said the death toll was around 7,000-10,000. The fighting was so bad that even police forces from both sides were unable to control it, let alone stop it completely. Many times, the police forces became those who picked up the dead bodies and put them alongside the road to avoid anymore trauma while the fighting continued. On August 22, the riots finally ended after British troops were sent in to calm the violence. During the riots, many people left their homes, but those who did not leave were subject to the violence. With over 100,000 injured, the riots didn’t end in Calcutta. In fact, Direct Action Day sparked various other riots throughout India.

2. Arab revolt in Palestine 1936–1939 – 5,600 dead

Result of terrorist acts & government measures. Remains of a burnt Jewish passenger bus at Balad Esh-Sheikh outside Haifa

Result of terrorist acts & government measures. Remains of a burnt Jewish passenger bus at Balad Esh-Sheikh outside Haifa

During the Arab revolt in Palestine 1936-1939, those who took part in the riots were protesting two main problems: large Jewish immigration to the Palestine area as well as firing back against the British’s colonial rule. The first years of the riots were mainly lead by Arab Higher Committee (AHC). During this time violence wasn’t a huge issue; those who took part would simply go on strike and other types of political protest that caused no real harm or danger to anyone. However, this took a turn in 1937 after the British had calmed the first round of riots. In September 1937 the rioting turned violent and thousands were killed. It is said that during the riots about 10% of the male Palestinian population between the ages 20-60 were killed, imprisoned, exiled, or wounded. But, in the end, these riots would prove to be quite unsuccessful.

How it started

In April 1936, several different Arab leaders banded together to protest Zionist advances in Palestine. These leaders, better known as the AHC, were calling for Arab workers to go on strike and to boycott any type of Jewish products. The group, lead by Haj Amin al-Husseini, represented the aims of the Arabs in Palestine until 1948. In Palestine, Jews were accumulating more land and more were immigrating to the location and the Arabs were not only frustrated at this influx, but also do to the European power that they were under. The AHC was calling for a swift end to these practices and wanted to spring up an Arab nationalist government to rule Palestine. Even though the riots started off peacefully, they quickly escalated once the Arabs realized that the British were able to squash their methods and that no change was going to come about through peaceful protest. By the end of 1937, Arabs, Jews, and even British soldiers were being killed due to violent and gang activities. Many Arabs were imprisoned, some hanged, and some even sent to live elsewhere.

How it ended

During this time, the British were also waging for a possible war with Germany. The country realized that they needed to maintain their Middle Eastern oil supply as they were dependent upon it and because of that have to ensure that the Arabs were in goodwill. However, at the same time, British rule was highly influenced and supported by the Jews as they were fighting against Nazi Germany. But in the end the government sided with the Arabs and relied on appeasement despite the country’s history of supporting Palestine as a Jewish homeland as well as the Balfour Declaration in 1917. Despite Britain’s decisions, Jewish immigration and growth continued. In 1937 the British, working alongside with the AHC, tried to draft a way to mediate the situation. A Peel Commission was created which stated that Palestine should be separated into Jewish and Arab states, but the Arabs were not for any type of partition. In the end with no reasonable conclusion met, the British had to keep the riots down with force and got rid of the AHC. Today, Palestine is still a land full of conflict.

1. Nika Riots – 30,000 dead

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While most riots usually last a day or two, the Nika riots in 532A.D. lasted a week, and today the riots are known as the deadliest ever, with thousands left dead throughout the city. Half of the city was burned to ashes and debris and the number of people who died is truly shocking. The riots took place in Constantinople at the Hippodrome and turned very violent after the news of the emperor of the time, Justinian I, not bringing releasing two men who were accused of murder. The name of the riots, “nika” means conquer, which really sets the stage for the riots. Those who participated often shouted the word.

How it started

In the fifth century, chariot races and other type of Olympic-like games were very popular. Just like in today’s world, there were teams that would compete against each other to become the champion. The two teams of the time of the riots were the Blues and the Greens. Justinian was very fond of the Blues and definitely made this known. However, a few days before the riot started, players from each of the teams was accused of murder and sentenced to execution. Many of the team members were hanged but somehow the execution was botched and one member of each team escaped and went into hiding at a church sanctuary. People called upon Justinian to have these men released; instead, he had the church secured by guards. At the games people called for the release of the men, but Justinian did nothing, and the violence started. Rioters banded together and began to set various buildings on fire, including the Hippodrome after the emperor decided to hold even more chariot races the next day.

How it ended

As the city grew more out of control, those who worked with Justinian, his senators, decided this was an opportune time to overthrow him as they did not agree with his new tax laws. Because of this, the senators joined in on the rioting and called for a new emperor as well as for John the Cappadocian and Tribonian step down for supporting Justinian’s tax ideas. However, this did not happen and with the rioting continuing, Justinian had two of his guards go to the Hippodrome and lock the doors to keep the people inside.  The two men then killed everyone who was inside. By the end of it all, 30,000 people were dead and a majority of the city was left in a disastrous state. Justinian did eventually have the city rebuilt after he exiled those who turned against him.

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  1. Rioting is meant to be something different from an uprising or a civil war.

    Funny enough, though, that hunger and hatred have been the cause for most of the riots.

    The involvement of governments in instilling riots is something worth a pondering too.

  2. What about 2002 riots in Gujarat India? ,One of the most brutal riots in human history killing and burning alive 2,000 muslims…..

  3. Yeah, go back to Berlin in 1938 Michael. Sounds like you would fit right in.

    Anyway, total nonsense to say the 1936-39 revolt in Palestine was a riot. It was a guerilla-terrorist uprising which had a few riots involved but it was mainly waged through assassination, train and vehicle mining and bombings. It can’t be considered a riot by any definition.

  4. “palestinians” are parasites who live of israel’s generocity by using its health, education systems, electricity
    food and also work in israel but still want to destroy it in the name os their alah…..what pathetic propaganda they are waving….they are no more then a midiocre criminals that dont know right from wrong.
    If anyone has any doughts, come to Israel and visit.
    Oh and by the way there were never such people as “palestinnians”…those are rioters who were kicked out of jordan for making trouble there…noone wants them.
    So stop saying its their land.

    • You are Really Funny My Friend ,,

      Go back to history, READ & READ & READ , before you say something.
      Palestine is one of the oldest cultures in the World, it had Palestinians living on it thousands years back before you people were given a land on it on Balfour declaration on 1917. (as if Britain owned it at that time).
      Jordan was always Jordan and Palestine was and will always be Palestine.

  5. Lokesh Arora on

    The deadliest riots should have included the riots which began on partition of India and pakistan. According to Wikipedia ” The partition displaced up to 12.5 million people in the former British Indian Empire, with estimates of loss of life varying from several hundred thousand to a million.[1]”

    Please Check and respond.

  6. Harinder Singh on

    No mention of anti-sikh riots in India in 1984 in which more than 10,000 sikhs lost thier lives all over India, more than 3,000 (govt figure) in the capital city of New Delhi alone. The riots were organised by the ruling party of India after the Prime Minister was shot dead by her sikh bodyguards.