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Dozens hurt in pay protest clashes

Thousands of garment workers demanding higher pay have clashed with police in Bangladesh for a second day, leaving dozens of people injured and at least 200 factories closed, police said.

Live television footage showed riot police firing tear gas as the workers rampaged through the streets building roadblocks with abandoned vehicles and wooden logs in violence that highlighted the poor working conditions in an industry that earns 20 billion US dollars (£12.5 billion) in exports but whose workers are the lowest paid in the world.

Thousands of angry workers hurled stones at security forces and attacked factories in the industrial towns of Savar and Ashulia outside Dhaka, Industrial Police Director Mustafizur Rahman said. At least 200 factories were closed on the second day of the protests.

At least 50 people were reported wounded in the fresh violence after 30 were injured yesterday, Mr Rahman said.

A government-appointed panel voted last week to raise the minimum wage for garment workers to 5,300 takas (£42 a month - a 77% increase but still the lowest minimum wage in the world. The workers are demanding 8,114 takas (£64).

Factory owners have not endorsed it either and argue that the proposed wage for an unskilled newcomer would increase their production cost significantly and destroy the industry in a fiercely competitive global market. The Ministry of Labour would have to approve the proposed amount to make it a law.

Bangladesh, the world's second-largest garment manufacturing country after China, exports mainly to the United States and Europe. The sector employs about 4 million workers, mostly women.

It has come under scrutiny for its often harsh and unsafe conditions after the collapse of a factory building killed more than 1,100 people in April. In another horrific case, a fire last November killed 112 workers.

The protests added to chaos from three weeks of sometimes-violent political protests in the South Asian nation.

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and 17 allies are enforcing a nationwide strike, due to end tomorrow, in which they are pushing a demand to form a caretaker government with people from outside political parties to oversee elections due by early January.

Despite disruptions during such strikes, authorities usually keep garment factories open to meet orders.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina wants to form an all-party caretaker government to hold the elections and says she would go ahead with the plan even if the main opposition leader does not participate.

AP

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