Another Bangladesh garment factory fire kills 7

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At least seven people have been killed when a fire swept through a garment factory in an industrial district of the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, police and an industry association official said.
Thursday’s fire, which broke out overnight in the Mirpur area, occurred two weeks after more than 900 people were killed in a factory collapse outside the city.
“It is not clear to us how the accident happened, but we are trying to find out the cause,” Mohammad Atiqul Islam, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, told Reuters.
The fire broke out at a factory belonging to the Tung Hai Group, a large garment exporter, after most workers had gone home, police said.
The owner of the factory was among the victims, but there were no workers among the casualties as there was no overnight production, police and fire service officials said.
“It was a big fire but we managed to confine it on one floor,” Mahbubur Rahman, operations director of the nation’s fire service department, said.
He said the victims died of suffocation after rushing into a stairwell and becoming overwhelmed by “toxic smoke from burnt acrylic clothing.”
Local police chief Khalilur Rahman said the fire killed eight people including the owner, his four staff, a senior police officer, and a low-level police official.
On Wednesday the Bangladesh government said it had shut down 18 garment factories for safety reasons following the April 24 collapse of Rana Plaza, which housed five garment factories making clothes for Western brands. The number of dead in the Rana Plaza collapse, which was the worst garment manufacturing disaster in the world, has now passed 900, according to the army. Garment workers held protests calling for the building owner Mohammed Sohel Rana to be hanged. Rana was arrested from near the Indian border.
There are allegations that Rana and other building managers forced workers back into the factory shortly before it collapsed, despite warnings that it was unsafe.
The authorities have now started disbursing salaries and other benefits to survivors of the collapse.
On Wednesday, the European Union’s delegation to Bangladesh urged the government to “act immediately” to improve working conditions.
Bangladesh’s garment industry, which accounts for 80 percent of the South Asian country’s exports, has seen a series of deadly accidents, including a

fire in November that killed 112 people.

A war crimes court sentenced a top Bangladeshi Islamist to death on Thursday for masterminding the slaughter of at least 120 farmers in one of the bloodiest single episodes of the 1971 independence war. In a ruling likely to further fuel tensions between the secular government and religious hardliners, a special tribunal found Mohammad Kamaruzzaman guilty of mass killing, torture, abduction and crimes against humanity. He would “be hanged by the neck till death”, presiding judge Obaidul Hassan told a packed courtroom in the capital Dhaka. The 61-year-old Kamaruzzaman, who is the assistant secretary general of the opposition Jamaat-e-Islami party, was the fourth person to be convicted by the much-criticised International Crimes Tribunal and the third senior politician. As the verdict was announced, he could be heard condemning it as the “wrong judgement” from his seat in the dock. Previous verdicts by the tribunal have sparked widespread violence on the streets of a country that has a 90 per cent Muslim population. Hundreds of secular protesters who had gathered at a central Dhaka intersection for news of the verdict greeted the announcement with loud cheers. “Because of his heinous role, many people were murdered and many women were raped,” Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told AFP outside the courthouse. “The nation has got justice today.”Prosecutors said Kamaruzzaman was a “chief organiser” of Al Badr, a notorious pro-Pakistani militia accused of killing thousands of people in the nine-month war, which saw what was then East Pakistan split from Islamabad. The genocide charge against Kamaruzzaman stems from the killing of at least 120 unarmed Bangladeshi farmers in the remote northern village of Sohagpur, which has since become known as the “Village of the Widows”. Three of the widows testified against Kamaruzzaman at his trial in which the prosecution detailed how the then 19-year-old led Pakistani troops to the village. The soldiers then marched the farmers to paddy fields, forced them to stand in a line and proceeded to gun them down en masse. Mohammad Jalal Uddin, a farmer who lost seven members of his extended family in the killing, was delighted at the verdict. “I lost my father, uncle and other relatives. Their crime was to have taken part in training to join the freedom fight,” said Uddin, who was a student at the time. “My mother and aunt died without getting justice, but at least I’ve seen justice,” Uddin, who heads the village’s welfare society for widows, told AFP by phone. “We still have 37 widows in the village.”Defence lawyers rejected the charges as baseless, saying the chance to prove their client innocent was severely curtailed as the court only allowed five witnesses to testify for Kamaruzzaman. “He was just a lad during the war. It’s a ridiculous suggestion that a 19-year-old could control the Pakistani army,” chief defence counsel Abdur Razzaq told AFP. The latest verdict came days after at least 38 people were killed in clashes between security forces and Islamists who are demanding a new blasphemy law. The secular government led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has insisted that it will not bow to their demands. Around 150 people have now been killed since the first verdict on January 21 when an Islamic TV preacher was sentenced to death.

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its Islamist allies have said the tribunal is a tool for the ruling Awami League to target its opponents.

Two BNP officials and eight other Jamaat officials including its leader are still being tried. A verdict against Ghulam Azam, the wartime head of Jamaat, is expected later this month.

Unlike other war crime courts, the Bangladesh tribunal is not endorsed by the United Nations and the New York-based Human Rights Watch group has said its procedures fall short of international standards.

The government says the trials are needed to heal the wounds of the 1971 war in which it says three million people were killed and 200,000 women raped.

Independent estimates put the toll at between 300,000 and 500,000.

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