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Worker unrest rocks Dhaka

Dhaka, May 23 (Reuters): Thousands of protesting workers set fire to over a dozen factories in the Bangladesh capital today after a colleague was killed and scores injured in clashes with police, witnesses and officials said.

The violence also spooked the energy sector, with officials calling on security chiefs to tighten vigilance at gas fields and oil installations.

The clashes first erupted in and around Dhaka yesterday after garment factory owners called in the police to break up demonstrations by workers demanding better pay and benefits.

Violence spread overnight to other areas and industries when thousands of workers armed with sticks and stones went on the rampage in the city’s Uttara, Mirpur and Tejgaon areas and its suburbs.

Chemical, drug and plastics factories were among those targeted, business leaders said. “The country is going through a serious security problem, which we suspect may also spread to other key areas,” said a government energy official.

Authorities deployed the elite Rapid Action Battalion force and paramilitary troops to reinforce security at factories. At least 100 people were detained by police.

Police said one factory worker had been shot dead yesterday, but they could not give details of the circumstances. At least 25 officers were treated for injuries.

Garments are impoverished Bangladesh’s biggest export, fetching the country more than $6 billion a year. The industry has over 4,000 factories and employs nearly two million workers. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association expressed concern at the situation.

Abdus Salam Murshedi, acting president of the association, said that 10 garment factories had been torched today, taking the total to 16 in two days.

“Unless the government provides adequate security to the factories and also protects our capital ... (we) will close down all our factories soon,” Murshedi said after a meeting of the association.

Bangladesh has already been reeling for months from widespread violent protests over shortages of electricity, drinking water and diesel for months.

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