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Thousands of garment workers riot in Dhaka over low wages

Police dispersed violent protests across the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka with tear gas Friday, as more than 8,000 garment workers took to the streets to protest low wages. Bangladeshi workers are paid the lowest industry salary worldwide.


AFP - Violent protests rocked the Bangladesh capital Dhaka as thousands of garment workers took to the streets Friday, with police reporting widespread looting and vandalism.

The workers were protesting against a government-backed pay increase that failed to meet their demands for a complete overhaul of the monthly minimum wage.

Violence erupted in multiple locations across the capital, police said, forcing factories to close as riot police struggled to disperse crowds with baton charges and tear gas.

At least 5,000 workers flooded into central Dhaka's up-market Gulshan area, a popular shopping district where many embassies and foreign aid groups have their offices.

Gulshan police chief Nural Alam said groups of protesters smashed shop windows, looted goods and set buildings on fire.

"We had to deploy hundreds of riot police, we have arrested some of the protestors," Alam said.

In nearby Mohokhali district, around 3,000 workers took to the streets, blocking a flyover and triggering clashes with police who said factories had been stoned.

"The protests began very fast but we have now brought them under control," local police chief Abdur Rob said, adding that several factories in his area had been seriously damaged.

Thousands of workers also blocked the city's main Tejgaon link road. Police said they pulled down steel gates protecting nearby garment factories, smashed windows and machinery and vandalised cars.

On Tuesday, the government said it would raise the minimum monthly wage for garment workers from 1,662 taka -- the lowest industry salary worldwide -- to 3,000 taka (43 dollars). Some unions had demanded 5,000 taka.

The government offer followed months of protests in key industrial zones that forced factory closures, delaying the delivery of major orders for Western firms.

On June 22, hundreds of thousands of workers closed the key Ashulia export area, which supplies retailers such as Wal-Mart, H & M and Marks & Spencer, a major blow for an industry aiming to steal contracts from Chinese competitors.

"The workers' emotion is running very high," said Mosherafa Mishu, head of the Garment Workers Unity Forum.

"The government has just done what the garment factory owners want -- this offer is not acceptable," Mishu told AFP.

She denied that workers had been involved in any attacks on factories and said at least 50 protesters had been injured and more than 100 detained by police.

"They are frustrated, they feel let down by the government -- they thought they would get a good salary and then are just offered nothing," she added.

Last week, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told parliament that workers' salaries were "inhuman" and said manufacturers should share profits with the industry's 3.5 million workforce.

But the powerful garment sector, which accounted for more than 80 percent of Bangladesh's exports last year, staunchly opposed any significant increase.

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers Export Association condemned the violence, saying the government had offered a "huge rise" amounting to an 80 percent increase.

"Against this background, this vandalism is unacceptable. It hurts the industry, the government, the country," said the association's vice president Shafiul Islam.

"We hope the government takes the necessary action against those responsible immediately."


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