Bangladesh: Police open fire on striking workers, killing one

At least one person was killed and 80 injured as police opened fire on garment workers who have been on a wildcat strike demanding a pay increase and the release of two imprisoned colleagues.

The Bangladesh Independent reported that two police officers and seven constables were also injured during a three-hour-long clash between unruly garment workers and police on Dhaka-Mymensingh highway near Mawna crossing in Gazipur yesterday.

According to local people, workers of FS Sweaters Ltd brought out a procession on the highway at about 1 pm demanding release of two of their colleagues who were arrested earlier by the Sreepur Thana police. The workers were also agitating for their pay hike.

Sreepur Thana police said that they were arrested following the filing of cases by the factory authority on May 18 against them for destroying factory properties. The case was lodged under sections 143, 323, 326, 357 and 379. Moshiur Rahman Siddiqui, GM of the company, filed the case on behalf of the factory owners, police said.

Witnesses said police charged batons on the agitating workers who put up barricade on the highway and chanted slogans for release of their colleagues and withdrawal of what they said "false" case filed against them.

Following the police action, the workers pelted stones on the law enforcers who retaliated by lobbing tear gas canisters and firing bullets.

Some 10 to 12 people received bullet wounds. Police offices Additional SP of Gazipur Mofizur Rahman and OC of Sreepur thana were also injured in brickbats hurled by the demonstrators.

Nearly 50 police personnel including 20 cops of Sreepur Thana were deployed to contain the agitation, Thana sources said. Police Super of Gazipur, Atiqul Islam, confirmed the death of an unidentified youth.

Some 7 to 8 constables were also injured in brickbats hurled by the workers.

A tense situation was prevailing in the area as workers continued to obstruct movement of traffic on Dhaka-Mymensingh highway.

Meanwhile, different organisations condemned the police firing on the workers of FS Sweater garments.

Garments Workers Unity Forum (GWUF) president Moshrefa Mishu and general secretary Mamal Debnath Rana in a joint statement alleged that the garments owners used hired terrorists and police to attack the workers on May 11 when they demanded increased wages. In this regard an agreement was signed between the garment owners and the workers on May 13. But violating the agreement the factory owners lodged false cases against the workers, the statement alleged.

They made five-point demand, which include withdrawal of false cases against the workers, immediate unconditional release of the arrested staff, arrest of the garment owners, compensation of Tk. five lakh for the family of the dead and Tk. one lakh for each injured person and acceptance of the agreement of May 13.

Five left parties - Jatiya Front, Bangladesh Samajtantrik Dal, Biplobi Oikya Front, Gonotantrik Mozdur Party and Gonosanghati Andolon in an emergency meeting condemned the police action on the peaceful movement of the garment workers of FS garments at Sreepur.

The left leaders warned that the movement of the workers cannot be halted by arresting the workers and unleashing repression on them.

They demanded compensation to the dead and treatment for the garment workers who were injured in police action.

They also demanded exemplary punishment to the police and garment owners responsible for the incident.

Among others, left leaders Tipu Biswas, Abdus Salam, Jonaed Saki were present at the meeting.

UNB adds: Identity of the dead victim could not be ascertained immediately.

Movement of traffic on the busy Dhaka-Mymensingh highway through the area came to a halt at 2:30pm and remained disrupted for a long time.

Witnesses and police said the workers of FS Sweater factory have been staging agitations for an increase in their wages for last several days.

Police arrested eight of the demonstrators on Thursday. In protest, the workers of the factory went on a wildcat strike yesterday morning to press for release of their colleagues.

"Abstaining from work, the workers were staging agitation inside. At one stage, police entered the factory at about 11:00 am and charged baton to disperse the agitators which triggered chase and counter-chase between the cops and the workers," says a firsthand account of the incident.

The witnesses said police also opened several rounds of fire from shotgun at about 11:30 am.

"Coming out of the factory, the agitators went on a rampage and the policemen fired again," says the spot report. At least one worker was killed in the police firing, the sources said.

When contacted over phone from Dhaka, a police official in Gazipur told UNB that police charged baton and fired as the unruly workers came out onto the street from the factory and started rampage at about 1:15 pm.