Bangladesh: Factory boss arrested as rage hits streets

April 28, 2013

The owner of the eight-storey Bangladesh factory complex that collapsed on April 24 killing at least 362 people has been arrested at the country's border with India. Three owners of garment factories in the collapsed building on the capital's outskirts have also been arrested. They are suspected of forcing staff to work, ignoring safety warnings.

Two government engineers involved in approving the building's design have also been detained.

There is widespread anger in Bangladesh over the disaster and fresh clashes between police and protesters erupted again on April 27. The day before, police used tear gas and rubber bullets to break up crowds that had blocked roads, set fire to buses and attacked textile factories.

Protesters are demanding that the government arrests all those responsible. The Bangladesh Communist Party has called a general strike on May 2 to demand severe punishment for those responsible for the deaths.

Hundreds of Bangladeshi workers had refused to go to work on April 25 and thousands more demonstrated in the streets after the collapse of a garment factory in the Dhaka suburb of Savar.

Police had ordered the building evacuated amid safety fears the day before its deadly collapse. But the factory owners flouted the order and kept more than 2000 people working.

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association had also asked the factories to stop work hours before the collapse.

“After we got the crack reports we asked them to suspend work until further examination, but they did not pay heed,” said association president Atiqul Islam.

Hundreds of rescuers, some crawling through the maze of rubble in search of survivors and corpses, worked through the night of April 24 and were still pulling victims from the wreckage days after. Army rescue teams said the death toll had climbed to 230 and was still rising.

Home Affairs Minister Shamsul Haque said that 2000 people had been rescued.

Thousands of workers' family members gathered outside the building waiting for news, and thousands of garment workers from nearby factories took to the streets in protest.

After cracks were reported on April 23, managers of a local bank that also had an office in the building evacuated their workers. But the garment factories kept working, ignoring instructions of local industrial police.

An official with the engineering department in Savar said the owner was originally allowed to build a five-storey building but had added another three floors illegally.

Local police said they and the government have filed separate cases of negligence against the building owner. Police superintendent Habibur Rahman identified the owner as Mohammed Sohel Rana, a local leader of the ruling Awami League youth front.

Police were also looking for the owners of the garment factories, who had gone into hiding.

International retailers rushed to distance themselves from the disaster, saying they were not involved with the factories at the time of the collapse.

Only Primark acknowledged it was using a factory in Rana Plaza.

[Reprinted from Morning Star Online.]

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