Friday, April 26, 2013

 

Workers clash with police as Bangladesh toll passes 300


Thousands of angry textile workers in Bangladesh have clashed with police at a mass protest over this week's factory collapse near Dhaka.

The violent scenes, which saw police fire rubber bullets and tear gas, came as 304 people have been confirmed dead after the building in Savar town imploded on Wednesday.

Around 2,000 people have been rescued from the eight-storey building that housed five garment factories.

The angry workers, some armed with bamboo sticks, blockaded roads and attacked factories in the textile hub of Gazipur.

"The situation is very volatile. Hundreds of thousands of workers have joined the protests," M Asaduzzaman of Gazipur police control room told AFP.

Widespread anger has been fuelled by revelations that factory bosses forced the 3,000-strong work force to return to the building on Wednesday despite cracks appearing the day before.

It prompted new criticism of Western companies, who were accused by activists of placing profit before safety by sourcing their products from the country despite its shocking track record of deadly disasters.

British low-cost fashion line Primark and Spanish giant Mango have acknowledged to having their products made in the collapsed bloc, while a host of brands including Wal-Mart and France's Carrefour are investigating.

Italy's Benetton placed large orders with one of the suppliers, documents found by activists appear to show, but the group has denied having links to the building.

'Improve working conditions'
The United States said it could not confirm whether any American companies were sourcing garments from the complex, as protestors in San Francisco targeted the headquarters of Gap with banners reading, "No More Death Traps".

"But it does underscore that there's a need for the government, owners, buyers and labour to find ways of improving working conditions in Bangladesh," said a US state department spokesman.

At the disaster scene, exhausted teams of soldiers, firemen and volunteers continue to work through the mountain of mangled concrete and steel for a third day after staying on the job for a second straight night.

Amid frustration about the slow pace of the efforts, thousands of anxious relatives burst onto the disaster site, prompting police to fire tear gas to disperse the crowd.

In the humid conditions, bodies trapped in the rubble were beginning to decay.

"The odour is so foul, sometimes you feel like vomiting. It's difficult to work here 20 minutes at a stretch," said Mohammad Tareq, a garment worker who is one of hundreds of volunteers.

While climbing on the upper reaches of the vast pile, Mr Tareq said one woman called Nasima had begged to be rescued from beneath the rubble and that she was with 15 to 20 other people.

"We've passed water and fruit juice to them. We hope they will be rescued in the next hours," Mr Tareq told AFP.

National fire service chief Ahmed Ali said the rescuers were now "racing against time" to find survivors.

Police meanwhile made a series of raids to hunt down the factory and building owners after prime minister Sheikh Hasina vowed to bring them to justice.

Employees told how they were ordered to return to their production lines, where they earn as little as $37 a month for long shifts six days a week, despite a police order closing the building.

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