THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published — Thursday 2 May 2013
Last update 2 May 2013 2:48 am
DHAKA: Bangladesh officials said the death toll from the factory complex that collapsed last week rose to at least 403, and the European Union warned of trade sanctions in the wake of the nation’s biggest industrial disaster.
Rescue efforts are continuing “but it is very unlikely that we will find any more survivors,” said Mir Rabbi, a duty officer at the control room supervising the salvage effort. While rescuers have pulled 2,437 people alive from the rubble, at least 149 people are still missing, Rabbi said.
The collapse of the building in Savar on April 24 is at least the third reported industrial accident in the South Asian nation since November, when 112 people died in a fire at a workshop that was producing clothes for companies including Wal-Mart Stores.
Bangladesh’s High Court Tuesday ordered officials to seize assets belonging to Sohel Rana, owner of the eight-story Rana Plaza and member of the ruling Awami League political party’s youth wing, as well as those of four owners of garment factories in the complex. The EU said it’s considering action under its trade rules to encourage changes in the nation’s supply-chain operations.
Outraged by the tragedy, tens of thousands of people yesterday flooded the streets of Dhaka to mark May Day, bringing traffic to a halt in parts of the city. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed visited the disaster site on April 29. Hundreds of relatives are still at the location waiting to learn the fate of family members.
“The sheer scale of this disaster and the alleged criminality around the building’s construction is finally becoming clear to the world,” EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht and Catherine Ashton, high representative for foreign affairs, said in a joint statement Tuesday. To incentivize responsible management of supply chains, the EU is considering action through its Generalized System of Preferences program, which gives Bangladesh duty- and quota-free access to its market, he said.
Building owner Rana, 38, was flown to Dhaka after being arrested in the western border town of Benapole, from where he planned to flee into India, Jahangir Kabir Nanak, state minister for local government, told cheering relatives of victims at the disaster site April 28. Police have arrested executives of four apparel makers housed in the building.
After cracks were found in the building on April 23, Rana forced workers to return to their posts and said it was safe as it was being checked by engineers, according to Mokhlesur Rahman, director general of the Rapid Action Battalion, an elite law-enforcement agency.
Rana’s wife and father were among the people arrested in connection with the collapsed building. The police have 15 days to interrogate Rana, according to a court order issued April 29. Anisur Rahman, chairman of Ether Tex, one of the five companies housed in Rana Plaza, turned himself in on April 28.
Savar is located 24 km northwest of Dhaka. About 300 factories employing as many as 500,000 people in the industrial belt of Ashulia, about 10 km east of Savar, suspended production yesterday after briefly resuming operations in the morning because of a walkout by employees calling for a safe work environment, Atiqul Islam, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said by telephone.
In another industrial belt, Gazipur, factories resumed production and are operating smoothly, Munibur Rahman, director of Gazipur Industrial Police, said by telephone.