Wed, May 24, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Bangladeshi protesters torch factories

TEXTILE TURMOIL Thousands of workers poured into the streets of an industrial zone near the capital, many of them armed with rods and sticks to challenge police

AP , SAVAR, BANGLADESH

Bangladeshi policemen rout textile workers during a demonstration in Dhaka yesterday. Tens of thousands of textile workers demanding better pay torched two more factories yesterday, the second day of violent demonstrations that spread to Dhaka, police said.

PHOTO: AFP

Angry garment workers set fire to at least seven textile factories in and around the Bangladesh capital yesterday, after news that a worker shot in the back during recent protests over better pay and working conditions had died, officials and witnesses said.

The 20-year-old man, identified only as Rana, was one of about 100 people injured on Monday when thousands of textile workers clashed with factory guards and security forces, police official Kamrul Islam said.

News of Rana's death triggered more violence yesterday as thou-sands of textile workers took to the streets in Savar, an industrial zone near the capital, Dhaka, and the scene of Monday's violent clashes, and the capital, witnesses said.

Mobs of angry workers, many of them armed with iron rods and sticks, set fire to at least seven factories in Savar and Dhaka, according to private TV channel ATN Bangla.

Dozens of people were injured as security forces swung batons to try to prevent the rampaging workers from smashing and burning passing vehicles, said Nazmul Huda, a local reporter in Savar. The protesters also blocked the roads with pieces of scrap metal, he said.

The protest created huge traffic snarls in Dhaka, a city of 10 million people, and its neighboring areas. Many commuters were stranded in their vehicles, ATN Bangla said.

On Monday, workers set fire to two factories and several buses in Savar during a protest to demand better pay and working conditions, police and witnesses said.

At least 100 people, including several police, were hurt when factory guards and riot police intervened to disperse the protesters, witnesses said.

Protesters also damaged several buses and cars after barricading a major highway to the capital, and ransacked dozens of smaller factories, police officer Jamiruddin Sheikh said.

The workers started demonstrating after authorities failed to meet their demands, which include higher wages and benefits, a six-day work week and an end to forced overtime, Belayet Hossain, a labor leader, said.

Workers are often forced to work seven days a week or late into the night to meet production deadlines, Hossain added.

A textile worker earns about 1,500 takas or US$22 a month. Hossain said they were seeking at least a 30 percent raise.

The rioting apparently started when authorities at some factories tried to stop their workers from joining the unscheduled protest.

Some workers also alleged that the protesters attacked their factories and beat them up for refusing to join in the demonstration, worker Lailee Begum said.

Textile factory owners, meanwhile, launched their own demonstration in Dhaka to protest Monday's incident and demand better security for their factories. The owners blamed a motivated section of workers for instigating the violence, and urged authorities to investigate the attacks on factories.

Several factories that mostly make garments for export were shut down following the rioting, and extra police were deployed in the area.

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