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Mayor suspended as Bangladesh toll climbs

02 May 2013, 15:39

Dhaka - The mayor of the Bangladesh municipality where a factory building collapsed killing more than 400 people was suspended from office on Thursday, a government minister said, as rescuers pressed on with the task of recovering bodies from the wreckage.

The scale of the April 24 disaster has prompted a worldwide outcry at poor safety and pay in many factories making clothes for Western brands, with Pope Francis on Wednesday likening the conditions of workers who died to "slave labour".

The salvage operation remained slow despite the heavy machinery now being used to clear the rubble of Rana Plaza, in Dhaka's commercial suburb of Savar, with a handful more bodies found on Thursday taking the death toll to 430.

"We are working here round the clock," army spokesman Shahinul Islam said. "Rescue operations are taking time as everything is being done with utmost caution."

Junior minister for local government Jagangir Kabir Nanak told reporters that Savar's mayor, Mohammad Refat Ullah, had been suspended for approving the construction of Rana Plaza.

A senior official from the state-run Capital Development Authority (CDA) said last week that the Savar municipality did not have the authority to grant the permit it had issued for a five-storey building at the site, and that three more storeys had been illegally added to the building.

"We won't spare anyone... actions will be taken against all who are responsible for the tragedy," Nanak said.


A mass Muslim funeral was held Wednesday for 34 victims whose bodies were too battered or decomposed to be identified. Cemetery workers have dug several long rows of graves where scores more unidentified bodies are expected to be buried in the coming days.

Suhrawardy said on Thursday that 20 bodies were recovered overnight, bringing the death toll to 430. Rescue workers believe more bodies are buried on the building's ground level, and they're using cranes and cutting machines to clear the tons of rubble.

Five garment factories occupied upper floors of the eight-story Rana Plaza building that collapsed on 24 April, a day after huge cracks appeared in the building and police ordered an evacuation. The owner of the building is accused of telling tenants it was safe despite the order.

The disaster and a garment factory fire five months earlier that killed 112 people exposed the unsafe conditions plaguing Bangladesh's $20bn-a-year garment industry that supplies many global retailers.


Mohammed Sohel Rana is under arrest and expected to be charged with negligence, illegal construction and forcing workers to join work, which is punishable by a maximum of seven years in jail. Authorities have not said if more serious crimes will be added.

The Bangladesh High Court has ordered the government to confiscate Rana's property and freeze the assets of the owners of the factories in Rana Plaza so the money can be used to pay the salaries of their workers.

Rana had permission to build five stories but added three more illegally. After the cracks appeared, a bank and some shops refused to open but factory managers told their workers to go back in. Hours later the building came down in a heap of concrete.

Among the garment makers in the building were Phantom Apparels, Phantom Tac, Ether Tex, New Wave Style and New Wave Bottoms. Altogether, they produced several million shirts, pants and other garments a year.

- Reuters/AP


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