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Wednesday, 8 August, 2001, 14:15 GMT 15:15 UK
Stampede tragedy in Bangladesh factory
Worker outside factory
The stampede was started by a fire alarm
By Kamal Ahmed in Dhaka

At least 20 people have died in a stampede at a clothes factory in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka.

Thirteen of the victims were women.

Dozens of shocked and injured workers have been taken to different hospitals in the city.

The stampede in the seven-story building which houses at least four factories was started by a fire alarm.

The accident in Mirpur township is one of the worst industrial tragedies to happen in Bangladesh.

Short circuit

Police say the fire alarm was raised following an electrical short-circuit.

Factory worker
Attempts have been made to improve safety
They say that there was a loud bang following the short circuit which caused panic among the workers.

All the victims were crushed to death as about 3,000 people tried to escape down a narrow staircase.

But fire department officials say that there was no fire.

Workers allege that some of the gates on different floors were locked, according to the police.

Safety regulations

The accident occurred despite a recent initiative by the government - under pressure from foreign and local labour rights organisations - to enforce stricter safety measures in factories.

In the past five years, at least 100 workers have died in fire-related accidents in the ready-made clothing sector.

In most of the cases, the victims were mainly young women as the sector relies heavily on a female workforce.

Among new safety measures, the factories are required to have emergency exit routes.

But workers allege that in order to prevent theft, factory owners keep these emergency gates shut most of the time.

The ready-made clothing sector is Bangladesh's biggest earner, worth about $4bn a year.

See also:

26 Nov 00 | South Asia
Bangladesh fire toll rises
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