Bangladesh hunts owner after factory inferno

Updated 28 November 2012
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Bangladesh hunts owner after factory inferno

DHAKA: Bangladeshi police hunted a fugitive factory boss on Tuesday after claims that workers making cheap clothes for Western firms including Walmart were told that an alarm for a deadly fire was a routine drill.
About 1,000 workers took part in a second day of demonstrations against dangerous factory conditions as the country held a national day of mourning for the 110 killed in the inferno.
Green and red Bangladeshi flags flew at half mast alongside black flags on top of government offices and the nation’s 4,500 garment factories.
Two government inquiries have already been set up to try to establish the cause of the fire which broke out late Saturday at the Tazreen factory 30 kilometers (20 miles) outside the capital Dhaka.
It was the worst ever fire to hit Bangladesh’s garment industry, which employs three million and is the mainstay of the poverty-stricken country’s economy.
Dhaka police chief Habibur Rahman said officers wanted to interrogate Tazreen’s owner Delwar Hossain about alleged violations of building rules after inspectors found the nine-story factory only had permission for three floors.
“We shall also quiz him about allegations from survivors that his managers did not allow the workers to leave the factory when the fire broke out,” Rahman told AFP.
“As the smoke spread, the managers even told the workers that it was a fire drill, nothing to be afraid of.”
Police had opened a murder investigation as a result of criminal negligence at the plant, Rahman added. “We have launched a search for him and the managers but so far we have not been able to trace them.”
The search was launched as a fresh protest was held in the Ashulia industrial area, home to about 500 factories who sew clothing for global retailers.
Witnesses said around 1,000 workers took part in the march, holding black flags and chanting slogans demanding justice for the victims as well as denouncing the “death trap” working conditions.
On Monday several thousand workers held marches in Ashulia demanding Hossain’s arrest.
Bangladesh is the world’s second largest clothes exporter with overseas garment sales topping $19 billion last year, or 80 percent of national exports.
Forty percent of Bangladesh’s industrial workforce is employed in the sector but conditions are often basic and safety standards low.
Around 700 garment workers have been killed in dozens of fires since 2006, according to the Clean Clothes Campaign, an Amsterdam-based textile rights group.
But none of the owners have so far faced prosecution for poor safety conditions. Campaigners say Western firms whose clothes are made in Bangladesh hide behind flimsy safety audits to help drive down costs.

Walmart ends ties with supplier
After European chain C&A and Hong Kong-based Li & Fung had confirmed they had orders at Tazreen, the US retail giant Walmart has now acknowledged some of its products were made there.
“A supplier subcontracted work to this factory without authorization and in direct violation of our policies,” Walmart said in a statement Monday.
“Today, we have terminated the relationship with that supplier.
“The fact that this occurred is extremely troubling to us, and we will continue to work across the apparel industry to improve fire safety education and training in Bangladesh.”
Labour activist Kalpona Akter, who took pictures of garments and labels left on Tazreen’s scorched floors, said other brands being made there included ENYCE, owned by the US rapper Sean Combs who is better known as Puff Daddy or P Diddy.
The European Union, the biggest market for Bangladeshi clothing, deplored the “appalling incident” Tuesday and called for better working conditions.
Witnesses of Saturday night’s blaze told how some desperate workers leapt to their deaths from upper floors as they tried to escape.
Fifty-five victims, whose bodies were charred beyond recognition, are due to be buried en masse Tuesday at a state graveyard after a funeral.
“We have kept their DNA samples so that we can identify their relatives for compensation,” Dhaka district commissioner Yusuf Harun told AFP.


UN says Nicaragua protest killings may be 'unlawful'

Updated 55 min 44 sec ago
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UN says Nicaragua protest killings may be 'unlawful'

  • Some groups called for "dictator" Ortega and his wife to step down, yelling "Out! Out!"
  • Mass street protests are rare in Nicaragua, where the army maintains a very tight grip on public order.

MANAGUA: The United Nations said Tuesday that many deaths in nearly a week of anti-government protests violently repressed by police in Nicaragua may have been "unlawful" and called for an investigation.
The scrutiny from the Swiss-based UN human rights office adds to international alarm at Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's ordered crackdown against a wave of anti-government demonstrations and clashes.
The European Union, United States and the Vatican have all urged talks to restore calm, while the US embassy in Managua ordered family members of staff out of the country after Ortega deployed the army to the streets and looting broke out.
A toll compiled from the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights and Ortega's wife and vice president, Rosario Murillo, puts the number of deaths since last Wednesday at 27. Most were protesters, among which university students and youths figure prominently.
"We are particularly concerned that a number of these deaths may amount to unlawful killings," Liz Throssell of the UN Office for the High Commissioner on Human Rights told reporters in Geneva.
"It is essential that all allegations of excessive use of force by police and other security forces are effectively investigated to ensure those responsible are held to account," Throssell said.
The UN office said at least 25 people, including a police officer, had been killed.
The protests were sparked Wednesday by pension reforms aimed at keeping Nicaragua's burdened Social Security Institute afloat by cutting benefits and increasing contributions.
But they rapidly spread and intensified as other grievances over Ortega's rule surged to the fore.
On Monday, tens of thousands of people -- employees, students, pensioners and ordinary citizens -- marched peacefully in the capital Managua and other cities demanding an end to the forceful security crackdown on protests.
Some groups called for "dictator" Ortega and his wife to step down, yelling "Out! Out!"
Ortega, a 72-year-old former Sandinista guerrilla leader who has ruled Nicaragua for 22 of the past 39 years, has been taken aback by the demonstrations against him, the biggest in his last 11-year stretch in power.
He has canceled the pension reforms and called for dialogue, and Murillo has suggested arrested protesters could be released.
But his security forces have not been pulled back, and -- though Managua appeared relatively calm early Tuesday -- widespread anti-government sentiment persisted.
Even Nicaragua's business sector, whose support had shored up Ortega over the past decade, has abandoned him over the violence.
A pro-government rally was being organized for Thursday to show that the president still enjoyed backing from part of the population.
Mass street protests are rare in Nicaragua, where the army maintains a very tight grip on public order.
But dissatisfaction has been bubbling over in recent months.
Frustrations have been voiced over corruption, the distant and autocratic style of Ortega and Murillo, limited options to change the country's politics in elections, and the president's control over the Congress, the courts and the electoral authority.
In rural areas, anger also stemmed from a stalled plan by Ortega to have a Chinese company carve a $50 billion canal across Nicaragua to rival Panama's lucrative Pacific-to-Atlantic shipping canal.
If the project went ahead, it would displace thousands of rural dwellers and indigenous communities, while dealing a negative impact on the environment.
"People are demanding democracy, freedom, free elections, a transparent government, the separation of powers, rule of law. The people want freedom," former Nicaraguan foreign minister Norman Caldera told AFP.
"If the government doesn't yield, it's going to be very difficult to stop this (the protests)," he said, asserting that the "big majority" of the population was showing its frustration with Ortega.
"The repressive apparatus is not able to halt protests on this scale," Caldera said.
Though Ortega has held out the promise of talks with opponents, the lack of any identifiable leader in the protest movement could make dialogue there difficult.
Under his watch, Nicaragua has avoided the rampant crime seen in northern Central American countries where gangs are rife.
It has also put in solid economic growth, yet it remains one of the poorest nations in Latin America.
The sudden upsurge in the streets puts Ortega at a crossroads: to tough it out, or to bow to the demands for democracy that have become too loud to ignore.