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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 November, 2004, 09:20 GMT
Shoppers flock to Dhaka mega-mall
By Roland Buerk
BBC correspondent in Dhaka

Bashundhara City
Developers say the mall is the largest in South Asia
Up to 25,000 people a day have been visiting the first Western-style shopping mall in Dhaka, even though most of the stores are yet to open.

Bashundhara City has been built in the centre of Bangladesh's capital at a cost of more than $100m.

The developers say they have already recouped the construction cost by selling all 2,200 shop units.

"We've tried to make everything comparable to the malls in Malaysia and Saudi Arabia and Dubai," says Latiful Husain, the resident director of Bashundhara City Development.

"We think this is a step forward for Bangladesh."

The owners say the new mall is the largest in South Asia and the 12th biggest in the world.

It took six years to build and boasts a gym, a food court and an indoor theme park as well as Bangladesh's first multiplex cinema.

The vast central atrium is lit by a glass dome in the roof 60 metres across.

Middle class cash

"My country is rapidly developing and every day we are being exposed to new experiences and cultures," says 26-year-old mall-goer Mohammed Fazlul Farhad. "Young people like this Westernised culture."

Bashundhara City
The mall highlights class divisions - customers can see into a slum

"The difference is this public open space," says his friend Mohammed Didarul Hoque, also 26.

"You can sit here and pass time. There are not many places for us to do that in Dhaka."

As in India, there is a growing middle class in Bangladesh with money to spend.

"We know the very rich have always gone to Singapore and Dubai for shopping and they will continue to do so," says Mr Husain.

"It's the middle class we want. They have high ambition to go up and to buy good things."

But the majority of Bangladeshis remain desperately poor. Nearly half the population lives below the poverty line.

The customers shopping on the upper floors of Bashundhara City can see into a nearby slum.

Mohammed Dulu Mia outside the mall
One day I want a stall in there, says Mohammed Dulu Mia

In the street outside hawkers sell bananas from baskets and broken beggars crouch in the gutters.

"When I went in there I thought I was not in Bangladesh but in the developed world," says 25-year-old Mohammed Dulu Mia, who sells fried food from a roadside stall.

"I didn't buy anything but I hope, if I work hard, one day I might be able to have a fast food shop in Bashundhara City."

Abdur Rashid, a 55-year-old day labourer whose teeth are stained red from betel nut, sits on a rickshaw watching the shoppers coming and going.

"I have never been inside because we have very little money. There is a deep division between the rich and poor, but maybe in the future my grandchildren or great-grandchildren might be able to shop there.

"It depends on luck, if luck supports you anything might happen."

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