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Heavy punishment demanded after Dhaka building collapse

Police use teargas on protesters: death toll climbs to 285

Heavy punishment demanded after Dhaka building collapse
Protests spread to the site of the deadly building collapse on Friday (photo by AFP/Munir Uz Zaman) reporter, Dhaka

April 26, 2013

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Thousands of angry garment workers clashed with police in Dhaka and on the outskirts of the capital today, as police searched for the factory managers and building owners of a commercial tower that collapsed and killed at least 285 people.

Protesters demanded severe punishment for the unnamed men during demonstrations which spread to the site of the collapse and increasingly turned violent, with workers smashing vehicles.

Police used teargas and batons in a bid to control protests outside the Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, the main industry body. The association claims that it previously ejected the factories concerned from its organization.

“We demand justice for this tragedy. This is no simple accident, but a man made disaster. The greedy owners must face murder charges and the victims should get lifelong compensation,” Nazma Akter, president of Dhaka-based labor rights group Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation.

“We have launched a search operation for the accused. They will be arrested in no time,” Shaymol Mukherjee, additional superintendent of Dhaka district police, said in response.

The government housing agency on Thursday charged the property owner with violating building codes. Police separately brought a second case against the factory executives over allegations they broke worker safety rules.

Meanwhile, emergency services continue to retrieve bodies from Rana Plaza, about 20 km north of the city center.

Workers at the scene of the collapse on Wednesday said they reported cracks in the building but were told to continue working.

Labor expert and lawyer Jafrul Hasan said that with a maximum prison term of five years, the existing law is insufficient. He proposed that criminal charges should be brought, with the possibility of a life term or even the death penalty.

“This tragedy is a massive criminal offence because workers were forced to work despite warnings about the building's cracks,” he said.

Media reports have alleged that the building owner is linked to the Jubo League, the youth wing of the ruling Awami League.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Thursday promised that those responsible would be held responsible no matter their affiliations.

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday joined local rights groups in condemning the authorities over a lack of oversight in Bangladesh’s low-paid, dangerous garment industry, following a series of deadly accidents in recent years.

“Given the long record of worker deaths in factories, this tragedy was sadly predictable,” Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director, said in a statement. “The government, local factory owners and the international garment industry pay workers among the world’s lowest wages, but didn’t have the decency to ensure safe conditions for the people who put clothes on the backs of people all over the world.”

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