Dhaka: Even as the authorities in Bangladesh launched a manhunt for the owner of the garment factory where 112 workers were killed in a devastating fire on Sunday, news reports on Tuesday claimed that it was an act of sabotage.
According to ‘The Guardian’, Bangladeshi officials investigating the incident claim that the ‘factory fire was deliberately started’ as the owner of the ill-fated factory went into hiding immediately after the incident took place.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh police launched a nationwide manhunt for the factory owner as thousands of garment workers staged mass protests for the second day today alleging that the factory 'Tazreen Fashion' was a "death trap".
An official day of mourning was also observed today for the victims after they were laid to rest in a mass burial.
Renewed protests came as new reports claimed that the factory was manufacturing garments for international brand names like Wal-Mart, Carrefour, Tommy Hilfiger and Gap. Some of these groups said they were stopping supplies from Tazreen.
US retailer Wal-Mart earlier clarified that it is ‘troubled’ that a supplier subcontracted the work without authorization to the factory here.
Dhaka Police chief Habibur Rehman said his men were on the lookout for Tazreen owner Dilawar Hussain about alleged violations in the factory building.
Bangladesh is the world's second-largest exporter of garments with overseas sales touching USD 19 billion last year.
The country's flag flew at half-mast at most of the government buildings and nearly 6,500 readymade garment units across the nation kept their operations shut.
Fifty-two of the dead remained unidentified as the deadly blaze burnt their bodies beyond recognition while investigations were underway into the inferno amid suspicions that it was an act of sabotage, endangering the country's key-economic sector.
"Stern actions will be taken on the basis of those (investigation) reports," Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said as Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir visited the factory razed to the ground promising that all those responsible will be brought to book.
Hasina was critical of the garments factory owners saying the fire that raged though the garment factory at suburban Ashulia area could not be doused immediately due to absence of any water source near the scene.
Thousands of garment workers staged mass protests yesterday while workers unions and media raised questions about the safety measures of the factory amid reports that its owner had gone into hiding.
The apex body of garment factory owners Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association however claimed the factory complied with the safety standards while the fire service too in their initial observation found no major safety lapses.
"Our initial enquiry shows the Tazreen Fashion (the factory where the blaze killed 111) authorities kept all required equipment in place alongside three separate staircases so workers could quickly escape the scene,” Fire Service Director General Brigadier General (retd.) Abu Nayem Mohammad Shahidullah said.
He said it appeared that toxic smoke blinded the workers as it was emitted from the highly flammable acrylic cotton at the factory causing the tragedy "which could merely be an accident if not sabotage".
National Garments Workers Federation today staged a black badge protest in the city demanding compensation for the victims' families, improved safety standards for the units, stern action ascertaining responsibilities for the tragedy and increased vigil against plots to upset the garments sector.
With PTI inputs
First Published: Tuesday, November 27, 2012, 18:03