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Workers Protest in Dhaka over Factory Deaths

DOHA, Apr 25 2013 - Thousands of garment factory workers have protested in the capital, Dhaka, over the death of about 200 workers in a building collapse, as rescuers continued to hunt for survivors, local media have reported.

Al Jazeera’s* special correspondent, whom we are not naming for security reasons, said on Thursday that thousands of protesters took to the streets of Dhaka with sticks in their hands chanting slogans such as “we want execution of the garment factory owners”.

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association building office has been attacked, our correspondent said.

Workers have blocked a road and indulged in vandalism at some places, the Daily Star newspaper reported.

The protests come a day after a garment factory collapsed killing about 200, and there are fears the death toll might go up, even as criticism mounted of foreign firms that source cheap clothes from the country.

After visiting the disaster site, Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir, the interior minister, told reporters the building had violated construction codes and that “the culprits would be punished”.

More than 1,000 people were injured when the site housing five garment factories on the outskirts of Dhaka imploded on Wednesday, allegedly after managers ignored workers’ warnings that the building had become unstable.

Mourning for victims

Flags flew at half-mast on Thursday as the shell-shocked country declared a day of mourning for the victims of the nation’s worst factory disaster, which highlighted new safety concerns in Bangladesh’s vital garment industry.

Army Brigadier General Mohammed Siddiqul Alam Shikder said many people were still trapped in the building, which housed a number of garment factories employing hundreds of people.

Workers had said a day earlier that large cracks had developed in the structure.

A clearer picture of the rescue operation would be available by the afternoon, Shikder said.

Searchers worked through the night to get through the jumbled mess of concrete with drills or their bare hands, passing water and flashlights to those pinned inside the building.

“I gave them whistles, water, torchlights. I heard them cry. We can’t leave them behind this way,” said fire official Abul Khayer.

The local police chief, Mohammaed Asaduzzaman, said police and the government’s Capital Development Authority had filed separate cases of negligence against the building owner.

Rescuers cut holes in the jumbled mess of concrete, passing water and torches to those pinned inside the building as rescue operations illuminated by floodlights continued through the night.

The disaster came less than five months after a factory fire killed 112 people and underscored the unsafe conditions in Bangladesh’s booming garment industry, the second biggest in the world.

Large cracks

Workers said they had hesitated to go into the building on Wednesday morning because it had developed such large cracks a day earlier that it even drew the attention of local news channels.

Abdur Rahim, who worked on the fifth floor, said a factory manager gave assurances that there was no problem, so employees went inside.

“After about an hour or so, the building collapsed suddenly,” Rahim said. He next remembered regaining consciousness outside.

Only the ground floor of the Rana Plaza in the Savar district remained intact after the collapse.

Fire crews said up to 2,000 people were in the building when it collapsed.

Building collapses are common in Bangladesh. Many multi-storey blocks are built in violation of construction standards.

In 2005, dozens were killed after a multi-storey garment factory collapsed in the same area.

*Published under an agreement with Al Jazeera.

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