DHAKA, Bangladesh -- Thousands of garment workers rampaged through industrial areas of the capital of Bangladesh on Friday, smashing vehicles with bamboo poles and setting fire to at least two factories in violent protests ignited by a deadly building collapse this week that killed at least 304 workers.
The protests came as rescue teams spent a third day searching for survivors in the rubble of the building, the Rana Plaza, in a suburb of the capital, Dhaka. Officials reported that 72 people were pulled out alive, a rare bit of good news in what is already considered the deadliest accident in the history of the garment industry -- with a death toll expected to keep rising.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina ordered the arrests of the owner of Rana Plaza, as well as the owners of four garment factories that were operating on the upper floors of the eight-story building. Pressure also mounted on Western clothing brands that rely heavily on Bangladesh to manufacture their products; labor activists have found labels inside the wreckage for clothes being made for J.C. Penney, Cato Fashions, the British retailer Primark, and other clothing brands.
Two of the factory owners turned themselves in to the police early today, bdnews24.com, an online newspaper, reported.
A special government committee has been appointed to investigate the accident and questions are already arising about why more than 3,000 employees were working at Rana Plaza when it collapsed Wednesday morning. Cracks had been discovered in the structure a day earlier, and police officials and industry leaders say they had asked the factory bosses to stop work until the building had been inspected.
"I wouldn't call it an accident," the government's information minister, Hasanul Haque Inu, told Bangladeshi journalists. "I would say it's a murder."
Friday's violent protests ricocheted among industrial sections of Dhaka as garment workers took to the streets to vent their fury. Many of the protesters demanded the death penalty for Sohel Rana, the owner of the building, as well as the owners of the garment factories on the upper floors.
In Narayanganj, an industrial district near the capital, protesters vandalized at least five garment factories and clashed with the police, who responded with rubber bullets and tear gas. Ten people were injured and nearly two dozen workers were arrested on vandalism charges after demonstrations halted traffic on a major road.
Meanwhile, labor groups in the United States on Friday distributed photos showing that they had discovered garments with labels from J.C. Penney and El Corte ingles, the Spanish retailer, at the site of the collapse. Seeking to press U.S. retailers to do more to assure factory safety in Bangladesh, dozens of worker advocates held protests on Thursday at the Gap's headquarters in San Francisco and at a Wal-Mart store in Renton, Wash.world