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Owner of collapsed Bangladesh building arrested

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The owner of a Bangladeshi garment factory block that collapsed killing at least 377 people was arrested on Sunday as rescuers battled to free a woman trapped for 100 hours under the debris.

Property tycoon Sohel Rana was detained as he attempted to cross into India and will face charges. The eight-storey Rana Plaza, like many structures around the capital Dhaka, violated building regulations.

"He is the one most responsible for the accident. The building was declared abandoned. But he forced the garment factories and workers to work on the building," Rapid Action Battalion chief Mukhlesur Rahman told AFP.

After being arrested at a border crossing with India, Rana was flown back to Dhaka by helicopter and paraded before the press.

At the site of the collapsed building, hundreds of rescuers continued the grim and painstaking task of searching for survivors.

As Rana's arrest was announced, garment workers and relatives of the missing cheered and began shouting "Hang Rana, Hang the killer!"

Another two people were pulled out alive after daybreak on Sunday and later a woman's feeble cries were detected, with efforts to tunnel through the debris to reach her being beamed live on television as doctors stood by.

But slowly the focus was turning from one of rescue to clean-up, with the ever-growing stench of decomposition indicating many more bodies will be found once heavy lifting and earth-moving equipment gets to work.

By Sunday evening, the confirmed death toll had reached 377, according to deputy administrator of Dhaka district, Zillur Rahman Chowdhury.

About 2,500 people have been rescued from the scene of the disaster, some only after undergoing amputations to free them from the pancaked slabs of reinforced concrete.

"We have moved heavy equipment to the site but are still waiting for the clearance from the rescue workers inside the wreckage that no one is trapped alive," national fire chief Ahmed Ali told AFP at the scene.

Rescuers have been using only hand tools such as cutters and drills, fearing the use of cranes would jeopardise the chances of survival of anyone still clinging on after the accident on Wednesday morning.

As the cranes prepared to get to work, hope was turning to anger amid criticism of the slow pace of efforts, with some experts decrying a lack of coordination in the operation or foreign help.

The tragedy has once again focused attention on the poor safety conditions in the $20 billion Bangladeshi garment industry, which is the world's second biggest after China, supplying many big Western clothing brands.

Britain's Primark and Spain's Mango have acknowledged their products were made in the block, while an AFP reporter found shirts labelled "United Colors of Benetton" in the debris.

The Italian group has denied having a supplier in the building.

The accident has prompted fresh accusations from activists that Western firms place profit before safety by sourcing their products from a country where textile workers often earn less than $40 a month.

Protesters holding signs reading "Love Fashion Hate Sweatshops" and "Primark's Shame" picketed Primark's flagship store in London on Saturday.

As outrage over the country's worst industrial disaster spread at home and abroad, police have stepped up efforts to find the accused and border officials have been put on the highest alert.

Officials said Saturday that another multi-storied building belonging to Rana, reportedly a local politician from the ruling party, had been sealed off after cracks appeared in its pillars.

Police were also hunting for Spanish entrepreneur David Mayor, whose manufacturing company Phantom-Tac operated from Rana Plaza.

Mayor, who spoke to AFP in 2009 for a story on ethical manufacturing in Bangladesh, co-owns the group, which he said was run with a strong "social concern".

Three factory owners have so far been arrested. They face a maximum five years in jail over charges of "causing death due to negligence", police said.

Survivors told police how managers had forced them to return to work on Wednesday despite an evacuation the day before when cracks appeared on the outside of the building.

Two municipal engineers who gave the building the all-clear after an inspection on Tuesday were also arrested and could face charges of death due to negligence.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130428/owner-collapsed-bangladesh-building-arrested-2