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Arrests over Bangladesh building collapse as toll rises

© AFP

Video by Josh Vardey

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-04-27

Two factory bosses and two engineers associated with a Bangladesh building that collapsed earlier this week were arrested on Saturday, amid protests by angry workers as the death toll from the tragedy climbed to 352.

Two factory bosses and two engineers were arrested in Bangladesh on Saturday, 72 hours after the collapse of a building where low-cost garments were made for Western brands, as the death toll rose to 352 but many were still being found alive.

The owner of the eight-storey building that fell like a pack of cards around more than 3,000 workers was still on the run. As many as 900 people could still be missing, police said.

Police said two of his relatives had been detained to compel him to hand himself in, and an alert had gone out to airport and border authorities to prevent him from fleeing the country.

Officials said Rana Plaza, on the outskirts of the capital, Dhaka, had been built illegally without the correct permits, and the workers were allowed in on Wednesday despite warnings the previous day that it was structurally unsafe.

FRANCE 24's David Bergman reports from Dhaka, Bangladesh

Two engineers involved in building the Rana Plaza were also arrested at their homes early on Saturday, Dhaka district police chief Habibur Rahman said. He said they were arrested for dismissing a warning not to open the building after cracks were noticed on Tuesday.

The owner and managing director of the largest of the five factories in the complex, New Wave Style, surrendered to the country's garment industry association during the night and they were handed over to police.

The factory, which listed many European and North American retailers as its customers, occupied upper floors of the building that officials said had been added illegally.

"Everyone involved - including the designer, engineer, and builders - will be arrested for putting up this defective building," said junior internal affairs minister Shamsul Huq.

Growing anger

Wednesday's collapse was the third major industrial incident in five months in Bangladesh, the second-largest exporter of garments in the world. In November, a fire at the Tazreen Fashion factory on the outskirts of Dhaka killed 112 people.

Such incidents have raised serious questions about worker safety and low wages, and could taint the reputation of the poor South Asian country, which relies on garments for 80 percent of its exports.

Anger over the working conditions of Bangladesh's 3.6 million garment workers - most of whom are women - has grown since the disaster, triggering protests. Hundreds were on the streets again on Saturday morning, smashing and burning cars and sparking more clashes with police who responded with tear gas.

Bangladesh Army officer Major Ruhul on the rescue efforts

Despite being warned about the unsafe state of the building, the owner “gave the green light and the workers marched in … and an hour later it collapsed, so there’s huge anger related to that,” FRANCE 24's correspondent in Bangladesh, David Bergman, said.

Remarkably, people were still being pulled alive from the precarious mound of rubble - 29 in all since dawn on Saturday.

“Yesterday was a relatively good day for the rescue workers,” Bergman said. “Hundreds of people were found alive including one room with 24 people, were able to walk out with their lives still ahead of them.”

Marina Begum, 22, told of her ordeal inside the broken building for three days.

"It felt like I was in hell," she told reporters from her hospital bed. "It was so hot, I could hardly breathe, there was no food and water. When I regained my senses I found myself in this hospital bed."

Frantic efforts were under way to extract 15 people trapped under the broken concrete who were being supplied with dried food, bottled water and oxygen.

About 2,500 people have been rescued, at least half of them injured, from the remains of the building in the commercial suburb of Savar, about 30 km (20 miles) from Dhaka.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-04-27

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