THE owner of a factory building that collapsed in Bangladesh killing hundreds of textile workers has been arrested trying to flee to India, as hopes of finding more survivors from the country’s worst industrial accident began to fade.
SEE ALSO: Primark urged to compensate building collapse victims
Mohammed Sohel Rana was arrested yesterday by the elite Rapid Action Battalion in the border town of Benapole, ending a four-day manhunt that began after Rana Plaza, which housed factories making low-cost clothes for western retailers caved in last Wednesday.
Rana was presented before the media briefly at the commando force’s headquarters in Dhaka. He will now face charges of faulty construction and causing unlawful death.
Authorities put the latest death toll at 377 and expect it to climb higher with hundreds more still unaccounted for.
Four people were pulled out alive yesterday after almost 100 hours beneath the mound of concrete and metal, and rescuers were working to try to save several others, fire services deputy director Mizanur Rahman said.
“The chances of finding people alive are dimming, so we have to step up our rescue operation to save any life we can,” said Major General Chowdhury Hassan Sohrawardi, co-ordinator of the operation at the site.
About 2,500 people have been rescued from the wrecked building in the commercial suburb of Savar, about 20 miles from the capital, Dhaka.
In rare good news, a female worker was pulled out alive yesterday. Hasan Akbari, a rescuer, said when he tried to extricate a man next to the woman, “he said his body was being torn apart. So I had to let go. But God willing, we will be able to rescue him with more help very soon.”
Officials said the eight-storey complex had been built on unstable ground without the correct permits, and more than 3,000 workers – mainly young women – entered the building on Wednesday despite warnings that it was structurally unsafe.
A local politician from the ruling Awami League party, Rana had been on the run since Wednesday. He last appeared in public in front of the building on Tuesday, after huge cracks had appeared. However, he assured tenants, including five garment factories, that the building was safe, according to witnesses.
Police said one factory owner gave himself up yesterday following the detention of two plant bosses and two engineers the day before.
Anger over the disaster has sparked days of protests, with police using tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets to quell demonstrators who set cars ablaze. Clothing workers blockaded a highway yesterday, demanding capital punishment for the owners.
The main opposition, joining forces with an alliance of left-wing parties which is part of the ruling coalition, called for a national strike on 2 May in protest at the incident.
Bangladesh’s powerful £13 billion garment industry drives the economy of the impoverished nation.
Government officials, labour activists, manufacturers and retailers all called for improved safety standards after a November garment factory fire in the same suburb of Savar, when locked emergency exits trapped hundreds of workers and 112 people died. But almost nothing has changed.
“Successive Bangladeshi governments have paid lip service to worker safety but in reality it is only the factory owners who have the ear of policymakers,” Brad Adams, the Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said this weekend.
Rana, son of a local businessman with political connections, became a force in Savar by working as an organiser for the two political parties that have competed for power for decades.