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At least 100 hurt in Bangladesh clashes over wages

world Updated: Jul 31, 2010 20:37 IST

Reuters
Highlight Story

At least 100 people were injured when garment workers attacked factories and vehicles in Bangladesh on Saturday in a second day of protests to demand higher wages, police and witnesses said.

Police fired rubber bullets and used teargas and batons against workers blocking roads in the capital Dhaka's suburbs.

This week the government set the minimum monthly wage to 3,000 taka ($43). Workers are demanding 5,000 taka.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina made a plea for calm.

"Who will benefit if the (garment) industry is destroyed? The workers should not involve themselves in any activity that might put their own source of bread at risk," Hasina's press secretary, Abul Kalam Azad, quoted her as saying.

The garment industry is Bangladesh's second biggest employer after agriculture, and accounts for more than 80 percent of the impoverished country's annual export earnings of $16 billion.

Saturday's protests started in Ashulia, an industrial area 30 km (19 miles) north of the capital.

"Several policemen were also injured, as they clashed with workers, trying to dispel attacks on their vans," a local newspaper reporter at the scene told Reuters.

The workers beat and seriously injured a cameraman working for a local television channel when he tried to film them. They also damaged and looted machines and ready-to-wear garments from a number of factories, witnesses said.

Police have so far detained 25 people.

Protesters also blocked a road at Fatulla, 16 km east of Dhaka, and more than 50 people were hurt in clashes with police.

Blame

Protest leaders blamed police for sparking violence by assaulting workers during peaceful rallies.

Begum Khaleda Zia, former prime minister and chief of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, speaking at a party meeting blamed "wrong government policies for the ongoing anarchy in the garment sector".

Leaders of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) demanded order be restored and threatened to close down factories if vandalism continues.

"We will be compelled to close down factories if government fails to give us protection," BGMEA vice president Faruque Hassan told Reuters. He said criminals disguised as workers had looted factories and wayside shops during the clashes.

BGMEA represents some 4,500 garment factories, that employ more 3.5 million workers, mostly women.