Bangladesh defends disaster effort as anger grows

Bangladesh defended Tuesday its decision to snub foreign aid after the collapse of a garment factory complex where at least 388 people died as the UN revealed it had offered specialist help to find survivors.

Bangladeshis march in the street demanding the death sentence for owner of Rana Plaza, Sohel Rana in Dhaka, on April 30, 2013. Bangladesh has defended its decision to snub foreign aid after the collapse of the garment factory complex where at least 388 people died.

With the death toll from the country's worst ever industrial disaster still rising, the government faces criticism and angry protests over its handling of the tragedy and the lack of oversight blamed for the loss of life.

Police at one stage fired teargas to disperse the protests under control on the eve of mass demonstrations which have been organised on May Day, one week on from the tragedy.

"The need for immediate foreign assistance was not felt because our rescue operation has been sufficient and exemplary," Home Secretary Mustak Ahmed told AFP, adding the government was "grateful" for offers from Britain among others.

The UN's humanitarian advisor in Bangladesh Gerson Brandao said he had made emergency disaster teams based in Singapore and Abu Dhabi available within hours of the accident last Wednesday morning.

"These are a group of people who are experts. They have dogs, micro cameras and other equipment that we do not have in Bangladesh," Brandao told AFP.

Sniffer dogs handled by the army were deployed for the first time on Tuesday at the site as heavy-lifting equipment and cranes moved in to begin clearing the mountain of rubble in Savar, a suburb of Dhaka.

Building owner Sohel Rana and four arrested factory bosses again faced chants of "Hang the Killer!" and "Hang the factory owners!" as they were brought before the Dhaka High Court in bullet-proof vests on Tuesday.

The court passed an order preventing Rana from transferring any assets and ordered the central bank to freeze the bank accounts of the other four.

"The high court has ordered a ban on transfer of assets and properties of the owner of the building and four factory owners with immediate effect," deputy attorney general Al Amin Sarkar told AFP.

The five face charges of causing death through negligence. Rana, whose father was also arrested, had been remanded in custody for a further 15 days.

Workers also demonstrated in Savar where they took to the streets brandishing sticks. Several vehicles were burned in violent scenes and the police fired tear-gas to control the crowds, local officers told AFP.

Mass protests are expected to take place throughout the country on May Day, with one of the biggest gathering of union activists scheduled to take place near the disaster scene.

Most garment factories in industrial areas around Dhaka remained closed for the sixth day in a row as hundreds of thousands of workers walked out, police say.

In a bid to show it was taking a tough stand on the widespread flouting of safety and building laws in factories, the government announced another blitz of inspections.

Groups such as Britain's "fast fashion" label Primark and Canada's supermarket giant Loblaw, whose clothes were found in the wreckage, have come forward to offer compensation to the injured and relatives of the dead.

Spanish label Mango and Italian group Benetton have also admitted their products were recently manufactured in the building and they are under pressure from campaign groups to contribute.

"Other companies who had premises in the building should follow their (Primark and Loblaw's) example," said British aid agency Oxfam.

"It is crucial that good working conditions and safety rules and regulations are met and tightly enforced by companies and individuals wherever they operate."

Although the exact number of missing is not known, there were around 3,000 workers on shift at the time of the disaster and more than 2,400 were rescued.

The shocking accident has again focused attention on the safety record of the $20-billion Bangladeshi garment industry, the second biggest after China's, following a fire in November that killed 111.

Western brands which have moved manufacturing to low-cost and low-regulation countries such as Bangladesh as well as consumers who overlook the plight of workers have been criticised by campaigners.

At the accident site, distraught relatives awaiting news of loved ones were increasingly critical of the recovery operation, fearing bodies could be pulverised as a major clean-up operation began.

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Writer: AFP
Position: News agency