Bangladesh violence closes 100 garment factories

DHAKA, Bangladesh

The workers have rejected a proposed 5,300 takas ($66.25) monthly minimum wage, a raise by 77 percent. They demand 8,114 takas ($100) instead in place of 3,000 takas ($38) they currently get.

A government-appointed panel voted last week to raise the minimum wage for millions of garment workers to about $66 a month - still the lowest in the world. But factory owners have not endorsed it and urged the government to revise the proposed amount. They argue that the proposed amount for an unskilled newcomer would destroy the industry amid fiercely competitive global market. They say, if effective, their production cost would increase significantly while global brands bargain hard amid a protracted economic crisis in the West.

The Ministry of Labor would still have to approve the proposed amount to make it a law.

Bangladesh's burgeoning garment industry has come under global scrutiny for its often harsh and unsafe conditions after the collapse of an eight-story factory building killed more than 1,100 people in April. In another horrific case, a fire last November killed 112 workers.

Mustafizur Rahman, director of the Industrial Police, said at least 100 factories were closed Monday in Ashulia and Savar areas to avoid further violence after the clash started in the morning.

Rahman would not say if there were any injuries, but Somoy TV station says up to 30 people were injured.

"The situation is under control now, but there is no chance to resume work in factories today (Monday)," he said. "We have remained alert."

Another top police official of Dhaka district told The Associated Press by phone that they called in paramilitary border guards to aid police in the troubled areas as part of heightening security. The official spoke on condition of anonymity for safety reasons.

Monday's chaos came amid a nationwide general strike enforced by the country's main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its 17 other allies to demand a caretaker government with people from outside political parties to oversee national elections due by early January.

Monday was the second day of an 84-hour general strike that ends Wednesday.

Despite disruptions during such strikes, authorities usually keep garment factories open to confirm shipment.

At least 19 people have died and hundreds have been injured in similar opposition protests since Oct. 26.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina wants to form an all-party caretaker government to hold the eelctions, but Zia has refused the proposal and asked Hasina to resign to pave the way for forming a government in line with her formula. Hasina says she would go ahead with the plan to hold the elections by January taking other parties even if Zia does not come forward.

Bangladesh, the world's second-largest garment manufacturing country after China, earns more than $20 billion a year from garment exports, mainly to the United States and Europe. The sector employs about 4 million workers, mostly women.

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