Anger in Bangladesh focuses on building owner, rejection of aid

Story highlights

  • Police fire rubber bullets at protesters calling for death of building owner
  • Britain and the U.N. say their offers of help were turned down
  • Authorities appear confused about the issue, but Bangladeshis express dismay
  • At the scene of the disaster, large cranes sift through the rubble to uncover bodies

As rescue efforts in Bangladesh have moved to a recovery phase, anger has boiled over.

Anger at the building owner who ordered workers to return to the building after cracks had appeared in the structure.

Anger at reports that the government had turned down offers of international aid.

Anger that so many died in what is now the deadliest industrial accident in the nation's history.

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On the highway leading from Dhaka to Savar -- the suburb where the building collapsed Wednesday, killing at least 398 people -- hundreds of garment workers clashed with police as they demanded the hanging of Sohel Rana, the building owner.

The demonstrators damaged more than a dozen cars as police fired rubber bullets to clear the highway. At least 10 were hurt.

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In another part of the city, garment workers formed a human chain to call attention to the dismal conditions in which they work. They are hoping the disaster will be a wake-up call to their plight.

'Hang him!'

Bangladesh's High Court has ruled that all of Rana's assets be seized, along with those of the owners of the five garment factories the building housed.

As Rana entered the court, demonstrators and some lawyers chanted, "Hang him! Hang him!"

Meanwhile, the United Nations and Britain said the Bangladeshi government in Dhaka had rejected their offers of assistance.

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The British Department for International Development said Dhaka declined an offer of "specialist technical advice" to help the search and rescue operation at the building.

Gerson Brandao, an official at the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Dhaka, said the Bangladeshi government had rejected an offer to send a team of international experts.

Authorities not clear about aid offer

Bangladeshi authorities appeared confused.

C.Q.K. Mustaq Ahmed, a senior secretary in Bangladesh's Ministry of Home Affairs, said late Sunday that he had heard that his minister had rejected an offer but that he did not know about it directly.

"Maybe the offer has been decided by the minister (that we do) not need that," he said. "I don't know, but I hear that he said there is no need. If there were immediate machines, of course, it might have helped. I don't know if they could line it up in two or three days."

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Babul Miah, deputy secretary at the Foreign Ministry, said he did not believe that such an offer would have been dismissed but was not aware of an offer or rejection.

"I don't believe that if the international organizations offered technical support that the government would reject it," he said. "It shouldn't happen."

'Utter disgust'

"It's totally outrageous and unfortunate that we turned down help, which could have only helped," said Naushad Hussain, a Bangladeshi citizen living in Kuala Lumpur.

Shammi Huda, a businessman in Dhaka, said his reaction to the news was one of "complete and utter disgust."

"Dhaka is always rife with conspiracy theories at best of times, but common sentiment is that government wanted to avoid any possibility of disputes arising over death tolls or competence in handling the situation," he said. "And that would have arisen with independent international observers and experts at hand."

At the site of the collapse, the recovery effort continued Tuesday, as yellow cranes sifted through concrete slabs.

For six days, rescuers had done all they could, many of them clawing with their bare hands through metal and rubble to reach survivors. They pulled out more than 2,400 alive.