Bangladesh factory shuts down after cracks in walls

Bangladesh authorities Wednesday shut down an eight-storey factory complex after cracks appeared in a wall, triggering panic among thousands of garment workers who feared the building would collapse, police and officials said.

The cracks were similar to those that appeared in the nearby Rana Plaza factory complex before it collapsed in April, killing 1,129 people in the country's worst industrial disaster, the officials said.

Kamrul Hasan Molla, chief government official of the Dhaka suburb of Savar, said factory owners suspended production and inspectors have since sealed off the building as a precaution.

"We visited the complex and sealed it off until it is investigated and cleared by the experts," Molla told AFP.

"We have closed it down as a cautionary measure as we just cannot take any risk after the horrible Rana Plaza tragedy," he said.

At least two factories were housed in the Razzaq Plaza complex employing some 5,000 workers, local police chief Mostafa Kamal told AFP.

Cracks had appeared in the Rana Plaza complex one day before it collapsed, raising alarm among workers. But the building owner and factory management forced the workers to return to duty, assuring them that it was safe, officials previously said.

The April 24 disaster led to renewed scrutiny of "made-in-Bangladesh" clothes which are commonly sold in the West, including the appalling safety conditions for the country's thousands of garment workers.

After the tragedy, authorities shut down at least 20 garment plants for safety reasons. But 17 of them later reopened following clearance by experts from an engineering university.

Bangladesh, with some 4,500 garment plants, is the world's second largest clothing exporter, making clothes for top Western retailers including Walmart, Tesco, Carrefour and H&M.