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India blamed for Dhaka garment workers' stir

Increased competition in the global market is leading the activists to allege that India wants to capture the nation's export market.

india Updated: May 24, 2006 12:48 IST

Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) leaders have termed the current violence at their factories as "part of a conspiracy by a neighbouring country."

One person was killed and 100 were injured, 250 garment factories set ablaze and scores ransacked in the spate of violence, mainly in the export processing zone (EPZ) at Savar on the outskirts of Dhaka.

Rejecting demands that the army be deployed, State Minister for Home Lutfozzaman Babar said the situation was within control.

However, increased competition in the international market is leading the BGMEA and its leadership to allege that India wants to capture Bangladesh's export market.

They have demanded deployment of armed forces, the Bangladesh Rifles and the crack Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) personnel, at all factories in Dhaka and adjacent areas for "safety", the Daily Star newspaper said.

About 100 owners marched to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) from the BGMEA office but failed to meet the prime minister.

However, officials at the PMO told the owners that the government has already directed Commerce Minister M Hafizuddin Ahmed and Babar to look into the unrest at garment factories.

The commerce minister rushed to the BGMEA office in the evening and held a meeting with the factory owners.

Bangladesh's garment manufacture and exports have done very well in the last two decades, increasing its exports by $500 million during 2005, despite adverse international climate and competition from China.

But there have been frequent problems about wages and working conditions. Overtime is reduced and not paid unless it is more than one hour. Hundreds were killed in a fire in a factory in February.

Amid a fresh spate of violence this time in Savar, on the outskirts of Dhaka, by agitating garment workers, the BGMEA leaders at an emergency meeting said such acts of violence by workers "stemmed from the conspiracy to damage Bangladesh's garment sector."

"A neighbouring country wants to grab Bangladesh's share in the competitive international market by creating an unstable situation at factories here," said Abdus Salam Murshedi, acting president of the apex body of the country's garment manufacturers.

But he declined to name the neighbouring country, the newspaper said.

Salam brushed aside the allegation that poor wage is reason for violence and said workers at the factories, which were attacked, are well paid and working condition is good there. "Outsiders attacked the factories...not the workers," he commented.

But M Aminul Islam, a factory owner, told the press conference: "Manufacturers in India have told a buyer from France not to do business with Bangladesh, saying that a war-like situation is prevailing here."

"Those who took position against Bangladesh in the last WTO meet in Hong Kong are involved in the conspiracy," said SM Taiyub, first vice-president of the BGMEA.

He demanded investigation of the violence at factories at the Savar EPZ and Ashulia by intelligence agencies and punishment of the culprits.

As workers at the Savar EPZ went on a rampage reportedly for fair wages, owners of different factories gathered at the BGMEA office and staged demonstrations holding rallies and processions.

Syed Manzur Elahi, president of the Association of Banks Bangladesh, AK Azad, president of Bangladesh Chamber of Industries and Fazlul Haq, president of Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association, were present at the press briefing.

Elahi told the journalists that "some quarters" are trying to tarnish Bangladesh's image with the foreigners through such acts at a time when a German delegation was visiting Bangladesh.