31 October 2009
DHAKA: At least two people died and 100 people were injured on Saturday when Bangladesh police fired rubber bullets at thousands of garment factory workers rioting over unpaid wages, police said.
The two people were killed after around 15,000 workers began hurling stones and rocks, prompting officers to retaliate, police said, in the worst industrial violence to shake Bangladesh as it struggles to cope with the fallout from the global recession.
Police said the protesters, who worked for Bangladeshi-owned Nippon Garments, were demanding three months’ back pay from owners who had shut down the factory, blaming a lack of orders.
“The law-enforcers had to fire rubber bullets from shotguns to disperse the workers who hurled stones and bricks at our officers,” Inspector Shafiqul Alam said, adding two people had died.
At least 100 workers and a number of police officers were hurt in the clashes in the Tongi Industrial Area, 40 kilometres north of Dhaka, police sub-inspector Maleka Begum said.
Nine of the injured were admitted to Dhaka Medical College Hospital, clinic official Abdul Baten told AFP.
“All of the injured have wounds caused by live ammunition and some are in serious condition,” he said.
Police insisted, however, they used only rubber bullets to quell the unrest.
“The angry workers became unruly and violent this morning. They threw up barricades on the roads and suddenly attacked police,” Begum said.
The workers also damaged vehicles, torching some, and blockaded road links between Bangladesh’s northern districts and Dhaka, she added.
Saturday’s clashes were the most severe since the global downturn began to affect Bangladeshi apparel factories, which accounted for 80 per cent of the country’s US$15.56 billion worth of exports in the last financial year.
Forty per cent of Bangladesh’s industrial workforce is employed in the garment sector.