Bangladesh defends disaster effort as anger grows

Bangladesh defended Tuesday its decision to snub foreign aid after the collapse of a garment factory complex where at least 388 people died as the UN revealed it had offered specialist help to find survivors.

With the death toll from the country's worst ever industrial disaster still rising, the government is facing criticism over its handling of the tragedy and the lack of regulation blamed for the loss of life.

"The need for immediate foreign assistance was not felt because our rescue operation has been sufficient and exemplary," Home Secretary Mustak Ahmed told AFP, adding the government was "grateful" for of help offers from Britain among others.

The UN's humanitarian advisor in Bangladesh Gerson Brandao said that he had offered emergency disaster teams based in Singapore and Abu Dhabi within hours of the accident on Wednesday morning last week.

"These are a group of people who are experts. They have dogs, micro cameras and other equipment that we do not have in Bangladesh," Brandao told AFP.

Facing more angry protests near the accident site, where workers took to the streets brandishing sticks, the government also announced plans for another blitz of inspections as it came under pressure for an improved safety regime.

Groups such as Britain's "fast fashion" label Primark and Canada's supermarket giant Loblaw, whose clothes were found in the wreckage, have come forward to offered compensation to the dead and injured.

Spanish label Mango and Italian group Benetton have also admitted their products were recently manufactured in the building and they are under pressure from campaign groups to contribute.

Although the exact number of people still missing is not known, there were around 3,000 workers on shift at the time of the disaster and more than 2,400 were rescued from the ruins.

As heavy-lifting equipment and cranes moved in at the site on Tuesday, more bodies were expected to be found.

The shocking accident has again focused attention on the safety record of the $20-billion Bangladeshi garment industry, the second biggest after China's, following a fire in November that killed 111.

Western brands which have moved manufacturing to low-cost and low-regulation countries such as Bangladesh as well as consumers who wilfully overlook the plight of workers have been criticised by campaigners.

Rights activist Hana Shams Ahmed wrote on Facebook that the Bangladesh government had spurned foreign rescue help because "they don't want this to be internationally discussed how easily preventable this was".

"Ultimately, the responsibility of this lies with the government and its chain of corruption, negligence and greed," added Ahmed.

Most of the hundreds of the garment factories in Savar, a suburb of the capital where the collapsed building is situated, were forced to close again on Tuesday out of fear of unrest.

There were also sporadic protests and clashes that led police to fire teargas, said Industrial Police assistant director M. Muniruzzaman.

"Tens of thousands of workers walked off their factories. But only a few hundreds of workers joined demonstrations carrying sticks," he told AFP.

At the accident site, distraught relatives awaiting news of loved ones were increasingly critical of the recovery operation, fearing bodies could be pulverised as a major clean-up operation began.

Yunus Khan, among a group of around 100 people still awaiting news, told reporters that he feared "the use of this heavy equipment will dash any chances of recovering the bodies".

Relatives have also turned their anger on the owner of the eight-storey building, Sohel Rana, who made his first appearance in court late Monday after being detained at the border with India.

There were chants of "Hang the Killer!" as he was brought before the court in Dhaka on charges of causing death through negligence. He was remanded in custody for a further 15 days.