Bangladesh toll 550; search becomes more gruesome

Updated 05 May 2013
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Bangladesh toll 550; search becomes more gruesome

DHAKA: Ten days after the horrifying collapse of a garment-factory building, life has become still more gruesome for crews working to recover bodies at the site. The death toll rose to 550 yesterday and the stench of decaying flesh was sickening evidence that the work is not yet done.
The UN’s labour agency urged Bangladesh to close unsafe factories as search teams on Saturday pulled more bodies from the wreckage of the nation’s worst industrial disaster
Rescue workers said some bodies have deteriorated so badly that they have found bones without flesh. Since the April 24 collapse in the Dhaka suburb of Savar, high temperatures have generally been 32 degrees C (90 degrees F) or above, and lows have rarely dipped below 27 C (80 F).
“The bodies are smelling. We are using air freshener to work here,” said Mohibul Alam, a firefighter at the collapse scene. The odor of decay is overpowering just the same.
Bodies have decomposed beyond recognition, Alam said, but he added that some could still be identified because the victims’ identification cards were found with them.
Some of the victims who had been closest to escaping appear to be among the last to be recovered. Only now have rescuers dug deep enough, using cranes and other equipment, to approach the stairs of the ground floor.
The official death toll from the collapse reached 550 yesterday and was expected to climb. The official number of missing has been 149 since Wednesday, though unofficial estimates are higher.
The disaster is likely the worst garment-factory accident ever, and there have been few industrial accidents of any kind with a higher death toll. It surpassed long-ago garment-industry disasters such as New York’s Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, which killed 146 workers in 1911, and more recent tragedies such as a 2012 fire that killed about 260 people in Pakistan and one in Bangladesh that same year that killed 112.
Bangladesh’s $ 20 billion garment industry supplies retailers around the world and accounts for about 80 percent of the impoverished country’s exports. The collapse has raised strong doubts about retailers’ claims that they could ensure worker safety through self-regulation.
Five garment factories operated in the Rana Plaza building that collapsed, and many brand labels have been found in the wreckage, but only two retailers, Britain’s Primark and Canada’s Loblaw Inc., have acknowledged that their clothes were being made there at the time. Loblaw’s CEO has decried the “deafening silence” from what he said were more than two dozen other international retailers who used garment factories in the collapsed building.
Mainuddin Khandkar, the head of a government committee investigating the disaster, said Friday that substandard building materials, combined with the vibration of the heavy machines used by the five garment factories inside the Rana Plaza building, led to the horrific collapse. Because of a power outage, heavy generators were turned on about 15 minutes before the building fell, he said.
The building developed cracks a day before the collapse, and Rana Plaza owner Mohammed Sohel Rana called engineer Abdur Razzak Khan to inspect it. Khan appeared on television that night and said he told Rana the building should be evacuated.
Police also issued an evacuation order, but witnesses say that hours before the collapse, Rana told people that the building was safe and garment factory managers told their workers to go inside.
Rana has been arrested is expected to be charged with negligence, illegal construction and forcing workers to join work, crimes punishable by a maximum of seven years in jail. Authorities have not said if more serious crimes will be added.
In New Delhi on Friday, Bangladesh Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith downplayed the impact of the disaster on the garment industry, which is by far the country’s biggest source of export income.


Former guerilla set to be sworn in as East Timor leader

Updated 22 June 2018
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Former guerilla set to be sworn in as East Timor leader

DILI, East Timor: East Timor will swear in a new government led by former guerilla fighter Taur Matan Ruak Friday following a protracted political crisis that has paralyzed the tiny Southeast Asian nation.
Ruak will head the second government in less than a year in the impoverished half-island nation that won independence in 2002 after a brutal 24-year occupation by neighboring Indonesia.
Born Jose Maria Vasconcelos but universally known by his nom de guerre Taur Matan Ruak — which means “Two sharp eyes” — was a commander in the East Timorese resistance before becoming chief of the newly independent nation’s army.
He also served in the largely ceremonial role of president between 2012 and 2017.
Parliament was dissolved in January amid tensions between former prime minister Mari Alkatiri’s minority government and an opposition centered around independence hero Xanana Gusmao.
An alliance led by Gusmao clinched an absolute majority in elections held in May.
Ruak’s new government includes members of Gusmao’s National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction, the People’s Liberation Party and the youth-based Khunto.
The incoming administration will face big challenges, especially as the clock is ticking fast on East Timor’s disappearing oil and gas reserves.
The resources pay for the bulk of government spending but oil revenues are in steep decline and the country has few other productive economic sectors.
About 60 percent of East Timor’s population is under 25, according to the World Bank, while some 40 percent of its people live in poverty.
Providing jobs for young people and reining in public spending — especially on large infrastructure projects — will be key tasks for the new government, analysts say.