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Bangladesh

Bangladesh court orders mass arrests over Rana Plaza tragedy

Warrants out for 24 people wanted on murder charges linked to factory collapse

Bangladesh court orders mass arrests over Rana Plaza tragedy

People gather at the site of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in this April 24, 2014 file photo. The factory collapsed on April 24, 2013, killing 1,134 garment workers. (Photo by Rock Ronald Rozario)

A Bangladeshi court has issued arrest warrants against 24 people in connection with the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in April 2013 that killed 1,134 people and injured more than 2,000.

The court issued the warrants after accepting murder charges against 41 people including Rana Plaza owner Sohel Rana and three government officials.

Rana remains in jail, 16 co-accused are on bail while the rest have absconded.

"The court accepted charge sheets against 41 people who have been charged with murder over the Rana Plaza disaster," prosecutor Anwarul Kabir told reporters in Dhaka Dec. 21.

The Rana Plaza collapse in Dhaka on April 24, 2013, highlighted appalling working conditions in Bangladesh's US$35 billion garment industry, the world's second largest after China.

The industry supplies clothes for major international clothing brands, employs about 4 million workers and is vital to Bangladesh's economy, accounting for 80 percent of its annual export income.

However, the industry is plagued by alleged rights violations and hazardous working conditions. In the past two decades, an estimated 2,000 workers have been killed and thousands more injured in dozens of factory fires and collapses.

Factory owners are politically and financially influential and are rarely held responsible for disasters.

Labor activists called the court move a "step forward" for justice but decried what they called a lackluster trial process.

"The government didn't want to pursue Rana Plaza trials but it has been forced to do so because of international pressure," said Babul Akhter, president of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation, a leading labor rights group.

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"We hope this won't become a show trial for the government to save face and the economy," he added.

Theophil Nokrek, secretary of Catholic bishops' Justice and Peace Commission also decried the slow legal process but hoped justice would prevail in the end.

"More than 1,000 died in the collapse and it's ridiculous to see the trial process moving so slowly. It shows that people with money and power will always try to take advantage and it results in a poor human rights record for this country," he said.

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