Emotional protest in Bangladesh two months after disaster

Updated 24 June 2013

Emotional protest in Bangladesh two months after disaster

DHAKA: Hundreds of Bangladeshi garment workers and survivors of the Rana Plaza building collapse staged an emotional protest yesterday, on the two-month anniversary of the country’s worst industrial disaster.
Relatives called on the government to account for those still missing and other workers demanded proper payment and compensation at the site of the disaster outside the capital Dhaka, where the building collapsed on April 24, killing 1,129 people.
Many of the relatives burst into tears as they told of their attempts to find their loved ones, while others called for the death penalty for the owner of the building, which housed factories making clothes for Western retailers.
“I’ve not found my elder sister Laboni Begum’s body,” said Shimu Akter, 18, a garment worker who was rescued from the rubble two hours after the building caved in. “We have seen everybody the authorities recovered. But she was not among them.”
A local government official said 316 workers were still missing, but the authorities said they could be among hundreds who were buried in a state graveyard after their bodies could not be identified.
The government has collected DNA samples of those buried who were not identified at the time, and said they would match those samples with relatives to ensure they were compensated.
But some family members said they wanted their loved ones’ bodies, not the money, so they could be buried properly.
“I want my brother’s body. We want to take him to our village and bury him at our family graveyard,” said Sujan, who uses just one name.
The collapse of the nine-story complex focused global attention on appalling safety standards at plants in Bangladesh, the world’s second-biggest garment exporter after China.
Twelve people have so far been arrested over the disaster, including the building owner, his father, and four factory owners.
Many survivors joined the protest, demanding unpaid salaries and severance benefits. Thousands of workers were laid off after the five garment factories operating in the complex were shut down following the collapse.
“The authorities gave me only 8,500 taka ($ 110) as compensation and nothing,” said Maleka Begum, who left the building only moments before the collapse to buy medicine.
“I want all my severance benefits and my unpaid overtime,” she said, joining scores of others at the protest.
Authorities say at least 2,438 people — mostly female garment workers — were rescued from the site, including 968 people who were seriously injured.
After the disaster, the government launched inspections of all garment factories to try to reassure Western retailers including Walmart, H&M, Tesco and Inditex of improved safety conditions.
But unions and experts said hundreds of factories were still operating in shoddy buildings, raising fears that another tragedy could occur at any time.


Britain’s Johnson plays down Brexit breakthrough hopes

Updated 13 October 2019

Britain’s Johnson plays down Brexit breakthrough hopes

  • EU leaders will meet on Thursday and Friday for a summit held under the pressures of the October 31 Brexit deadline

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson played down hopes Sunday of a breakthrough in his last-ditch bid to strike an amicable divorce deal with the European Union.
Negotiators went behind closed doors for intensive talks in Brussels after Johnson outlined a new set of proposals to Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Thursday.
They have very little time left to succeed.
EU leaders will meet on Thursday and Friday for a summit held under the pressures of the October 31 Brexit deadline just two weeks away.
The 27 would ideally like to have a full proposal to vote on by then.
But the sides are trying to achieve in a few days what they had failed to in the more than three years since Britons first voted to leave the European Union after nearly 50 years.
Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier called the weekend negotiations “constructive” enough to keep going for another day.
“A lot of work remains to be done,” Barnier stressed in a statement to EU ambassadors.
“Discussions at technical level will continue (Monday).”
Downing Street said Johnson also told his cabinet to brace for a cliff-hanger finish.
He reiterated “that a pathway to a deal could be seen but that there is still a significant amount of work to get there and we must remain prepared to leave on October 31,” a Downing Street spokesman said.
Johnson rose to power in July on a promise not to extend Brexit for a third time this year — even for a few weeks.
Breaking that pledge could come back to haunt him in an early general election that most predict for the coming months.
Johnson is under parliamentary orders to seek a extension until January 31 of next year if no deal emerges by Saturday.
He has promised to both follow the law and get Britain out by October 31 — a contradiction that might end up being settled in court.
Outgoing EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker said British politics were getting more difficult to decipher than the riddle of an “Egyptian sphinx.”
“If the British ask for more time, which they probably will not, it would in my view be a historical nonsense to refuse them,” Juncker told Austria’s Kurier newspaper.
Ireland’s Varadkar hinted on Thursday that he could support the talks running on up to the October 31 deadline if a deal seemed within reach.
The few details that have leaked out suggest a compromise around the contentious Irish border issue Britain’s Northern Ireland partially aligned with EU customs rules.
Whether such a fudge suits both Brussels and the more ardent Brexit backers in parliament who must still approve a deal should become clearer by the end of the week.
Britain will only avoid a chaotic breakup with its closest trading partners if the agreement is also passed by the UK parliament — something it has failed to do three times.
Johnson heads a minority government and must rely on the full backing of not only his own fractured Conservatives but also Northern Ireland’s small Democratic Unionist Party.
DUP’s parliamentary leader Nigel Dodds warned Johnson that “Northern Ireland must remain entirely in the customs union of the United Kingdom” and not the EU.
“And Boris Johnson knows it very well,” Dodds told Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper.
The comments do not necessarily rule out DUP support.
UK media are presenting Johnson’s mooted compromise as a “double customs” plan that could be interpreted to mean that Northern Ireland is leaving EU rules.
Yet details are still under discussion and the prime minister’s allies are urging lawmakers to give the British leader a chance.
Main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn signalled Sunday that he would wait for the outcome of the EU summit before trying to force an early election.
But he added that there was “a strong possibility” that those polls would come before the Christmas break.