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Fire factory bosses arrested amid protests

Survivors say they were stopped from fleeing blaze

  • Shafiq Alam, Dhaka
  • Bangladesh
  • November 28, 2012
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Thousands of workers protested for a third day on Wednesday after Bangladesh's worst garment factory fire as police arrested three managers over claims they stopped employees from leaving the burning plant.

At least 5,000 workers left their factories and joined the protests, pelting plants with stones and streaming through the main streets of Ashulia industrial area, just outside Dhaka and home to 500 manufacturing outlets, police said.

"They were demanding justice for the fire victims and arrest of the Tazreen owner," said Faruq Ahmed, a senior Dhaka police official.

Ahmed was referring to the garment factory in Ashulia where a weekend blaze left at least 110 people dead and more than 100 injured.

Police fired a water cannon to disperse the crowd while more than 100 factories declared an impromptu holiday for the day, fearing the protests would spread into larger-scale industrial unrest.

Police have arrested three managers of the factory hit by the weekend fire, following charges that they stopped workers from leaving the plant by insisting that an alarm was just a routine fire drill.

Dhaka police chief Habibur Rahman said the managers allegedly told panicked workers they had nothing to worry about when the fire started on Saturday night.

"All three are mid-level managers of Tazreen. Survivors told us they did not allow the workers to escape the fire, saying it was a routine fire drill. There are also allegations they even padlocked doors," Rahman said.

The latest protests on Wednesday were sparked by a "rumor over a fire alarm," Dhaka police official Ahmed said.

Survivors of the weekend blaze described how workers, most of them women, tried to escape the burning factory, which supplied clothes to a variety of international brands including US giant Walmart.

Two government inquiries have already been set up to try to establish the cause of the worst factory blaze to hit Bangladesh's garment industry, which employs three million and is the mainstay of the economy.

The shocked nation observed a day of national mourning on Tuesday. Green and red Bangladeshi flags flew at half-mast alongside black flags on top of government offices and the nation's 4,500 garment factories.

Rahman said police also questioned Tazreen's owner, Delwar Hossain, about alleged violations of building rules after inspectors found the nine-storey factory only had permission for three floors.

Around 700 garment workers have been killed in dozens of fires since 2006, according to the Clean Clothes Campaign, an Amsterdam-based textile rights group. But none of the owners have been prosecuted over previous blazes.

Campaigners allege that Western firms, whose clothes are made in Bangladesh, hide behind inadequate safety audits to help drive down costs.

After European chain C&A and Hong Kong-based Li & Fung confirmed they had orders at Tazreen, the US retail giant Walmart also acknowledged some of its products were made there and said it had terminated its ties with the supplier. AFP

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