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Workers shout slogans as they protest over the deaths of their colleagues after Bangladesh's worst-ever factory blaze killed at least 112 people in Savar on Monday. Andrew Biraj / Reuters
Bangladesh factory called a 'deathtrap'
About 15,000 Bangladeshi workers blocked the streets of a Dhaka suburb on Monday, throwing stones at factories and smashing vehicles, as they demanded justice for at least 112 people killed in a garment factory fire that highlighted unsafe conditions in an industry rushing to produce for major retailers around the world.
More than 500 factories were closed for the day after the protest erupted in Savar, the industrial zone where Saturday's deadly fire occurred. Protesters blocked a major highway.
Police said those factories who make apparel for top global retailers such as Walmart, H&M and Tesco declared a wild-cat "holiday", fearing that the protests could worsen and turn into large-scale unrest.
"Most workers are in shock. They want to see safety improvements to these deathtrap factories," Babul Akter, head of a garment union, told AFP.
The government announced that Tuesday will be a day of national mourning, with the national flag flying at half-mast in honor of the dead.
Local police chief Badrul Alam said they had opened a case of murder due to criminal negligence. Two government inquiries and the police investigation are trying to establish if the owners were to blame for the fire.
"We won't spare anyone," police chief Alam promised.
Preparations have been made for the mass burial on Monday of the bodies of 59 workers who cannot be identified.
The factory in the blaze is owned by Tazreen Fashions Ltd, a subsidiary of the Tuba Group that has produced clothing for Walmart.
Their remains, often burnt beyond recognition, will be laid to rest at a state graveyard in a southern suburb of Dhaka.
"We are keeping the DNA samples of the dead workers so that we can identify their relatives for compensation," said Dhaka district police commissioner Yusuf Harunhe.
Investigators suspect that a short circuit caused the fire, said Major Mohammad Mahbub, fire department operations director. But he said it was not the fire itself but the lack of safety measures in the eight-story building that made it so deadly.
"Had there been at least one emergency exit through outside the factory, the casualties would have been much lower," Mahbub said. He said firefighters recovered at least 100 bodies from the factory, and 12 more people died at hospitals after jumping from the building to escape the fire.
Mohammad Ripu, a survivor, said on Monday that he tried to run out of the building when the fire alarm rang but was stopped.
"Managers told us, 'Nothing happened. The fire alarm had just gone out of order. Go back to work,'" Ripu said. "But we quickly understood that there was a fire. As we again ran for the exit point we found it locked from outside, and it was too late."
The garment factory fire was Bangladesh's deadliest in recent memory, but such dangers have long been a fact of life as the industry has mushroomed to meet demand from major retailers around the world.
Bangladesh firefighters on Monday quelled a new blaze at a garment factory in the outskirts of the capital Dhaka, but no casualties were reported.
"Most workers broke grilles in the upper floor and escaped to a safe location at an adjacent building," Dhaka district deputy commissioner of police Nisharul Arif said.
Bangladesh has some 4,000 garment factories, many without proper safety measures. The country annually earns about $20 billion from exports of garment products, mainly to the US and Europe.
(China Daily 11/27/2012 page12)