By JULHAS ALAM, Associated Press Writer Tue
May 23, 3:22 PM ET
SAVAR, Bangladesh - Angry garment workers set fire to seven textile factories in and around the capital Tuesday after news that an employee shot in the back during recent protests over better pay and working conditions had died, officials and witnesses said.
The 20-year-old man, identified only as Rana, was one of about 100 people injured Monday when thousands of textile workers clashed with factory guards and security forces, police official Kamrul Islam said.
News of his death sparked more violence as thousands of textile workers took to the streets in Savar, an industrial zone near Dhaka, and the scene of Monday’s clashes, witnesses said.
Mobs of angry workers, many of them armed with iron rods and sticks, set fire to at least seven factories in Savar and Dhaka, according to private TV channel ATN Bangla.
Dozens of people were injured as security forces swung batons to try to prevent the rampaging workers from smashing and burning passing vehicles, said Nazmul Huda, a local reporter in Savar. The protesters also blocked the roads with pieces of scrap metal, he said.
The protests spread to the capital, where workers blocked busy roads and ransacked several factories - looting buildings and burning cars - in an industrial area in downtown Dhaka. They also threw stones at police and firefighters who tried to control the situation, according to ATN Bangla.
The protests created huge traffic snarls in Dhaka, a city of 10 million people, and its neighboring areas.
On Monday, workers set fire to two factories and several buses in Savar during a protest to demand better pay and working conditions, police and witnesses said.
At least 100 people, including several police, were injured when factory guards and riot police intervened to disperse the protesters, witnesses said.
Rampaging workers also damaged several buses and cars after barricading a major highway to the capital, and ransacked dozens of smaller factories, police officer Jamiruddin Sheikh said.
The workers started demonstrating after authorities failed to meet their demands, which include higher wages and benefits, one day off per week and an end to forced overtime, said labor leader Belayet Hossain.
Workers are often forced to work seven days a week or late into the night to meet production deadlines, Hossain added.
"We have joined the protest as we are paid pittance for our hard work," said Kamal Hussain, a garment worker who was demonstrating with about 100 others in Uttara, just outside Dhaka.
A textile worker earns about $22 a month in Bangladesh. Hossain said they were seeking at least a 30 percent raise.
The rioting apparently started when authorities at some factories tried to stop their workers from joining the unscheduled protest.
Some workers also alleged that the protesters attacked their factories and beat them up for refusing to join in the demonstration, worker Lailee Begum said.
Textile factory owners, meanwhile, launched their own demonstration in downtown Dhaka to protest Monday’s incident and demand better security for their factories.
The owners blamed a motivated section of workers for instigating the violence, and urged authorities to deploy the army at factories and investigate the attacks, according to the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.
Several factories that mostly make garments for export were shut down following the rioting, and extra police were deployed in the area.
Meanwhile, the government promised better security for the factories.
"The government will do whatever necessary for the protection of the garment industry," junior Interior Minister Lutfuzzaman Babar said after Tuesday’s violence.
Bangladesh has about 2,500 garment factories employing about 1.8 million workers, mostly women.
The impoverished country earns about $6 billion annually from textile exports, mainly to the United States and Europe, according to Bangladesh’s Export Promotion Bureau.