26 Apr 2013

Protests at building disaster as death toll climbs

7:11 pm on 26 April 2013

As rescuers scour the ruins of a collapsed building in Bangladesh for survivors, police have fired rubber bullets and teargas at thousands of garment workers protesting over the disaster.

The death toll from the country's worst industrial accident is now more than 270 on Friday, with hundreds injured and an estimated 1000 people unaccounted for.

Some 2000 people were in the eight-storey Rana Plaza in the town of Savar when it collapsed about 9am on Wednesday (local time).

More than 40 people have been rescued since Thursday from the building near the capital Dhaka which housed several clothing factories, a bank and a market, the BBC reports.

Thousands of Bangladeshis are protesting against poor building safety standards.

On Thursday, some roads were blocked by the protests and demonstrators clashed with police outside the headquarters of Bangladesh's garment manufacturers' association. Garment workers in other parts of the capital were out again on Friday.

"The situation is very volatile... We fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse [the protesters]," one police officer told AFP.

Meanwhile, survivors have described a deafening bang and tremors before the building crashed down under them. Shirin Akhter, 22, who was in a workshop on the sixth floor, said she thought there had been an earthquake. She was trapped for hours before breaking through a wall.

One trapped man, Mohammad Altab, was able to speak to journalists, saying: "I want to live. It's so painful here."

Police say the owner of factories in the building had ignored warning about cracks appearing on Tuesday. The owner, a local politician, is said to be in hiding, but Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has promised that he will be punished.

The head of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association said that local officials had indicated the cracks the day before the building failed.

While a bank in the building closed on Wednesday, the factories told their workers there was no danger, industry officials said.

The government declared a national day of mourning and flags were flown half mast at all official buildings.