DHAKA (Reuters) - Bangladeshi lawyers and protesters chanted “hang him, hang him” on Monday as the owner of a factory building that collapsed last week killing nearly 400 people was led into court dressed in a helmet and bullet-proof jacket, witnesses said.
The drama came as rescue officials said they were unlikely to find more survivors in the rubble of the building that collapsed on Wednesday, burying hundreds of garment workers in the country’s worst industrial accident.
Heavy cranes were being used to lift huge concrete blocks from the wreckage of Rana Plaza, where 385 people are now confirmed to have been killed. The building housed factories making clothes for Western brands.
Eight people have been arrested - four factory bosses, two engineers, building owner Mohammed Sohel Rana and his father, Abdul Khalek. Police are looking for a fifth factory boss, David Mayor, who they said was a Spanish citizen.
Rana, a local leader of the ruling Awami League’s youth front, was shown on television being brought to Dhaka in handcuffs after he was seized in the border town of Benapole by the elite Rapid Action Battalion following a four-day manhunt.
Rana was arrested by police commandos on Sunday, apparently trying to flee to India.
“Put the killer on the gallows, he is not worth of any mercy or lenient penalty,” one onlooker outside the court shouted.
The court ordered that Rana be held for 15 days “on remand” for interrogation.
Khalek, who officials said was named in documents as a legal owner of the building, was arrested in Dhaka on Monday. Those being held face charges of faulty construction and causing unlawful death.
Bangladesh does carry out the death penalty for murder and for most serious categories of manslaughter.
Hundreds of the mostly female workers who are thought to have been inside the building when it caved in remain unaccounted for. A fire overnight further hampered the last desperate efforts to find survivors.
“We are giving the highest priority to saving people, but there is little hope of finding anyone alive,” army spokesman Shahinul Islam told reporters at the site.
About 2,500 people have been rescued from the wrecked building in the commercial suburb of Savar, about 30 km (20 miles) from the capital, Dhaka.
Late on Sunday, sparks from rescuers’ cutting equipment started a fire in the debris as they raced to save a woman who may have been the last survivor in the rubble. Her body was recovered on Monday afternoon.
“We could not save her, even though we heard her voice this morning,” a tearful rescue worker told reporters at the scene.
Officials said the eight-storey complex had been built on swampy ground without the correct permits, and more than 3,000 workers - most of them young women - entered the building on Wednesday morning despite warnings that it was structurally unsafe.
A bank and shops in the same building closed after a jolt was felt and cracks were noticed on some pillars on Tuesday.
The collapse was the third major industrial incident in five months in Bangladesh, the second-largest exporter of garments in the world behind China. In November, a fire at the Tazreen Fashion factory in a suburb of Dhaka killed 112 people.
Such incidents have raised serious questions about worker safety and low wages in the poor South Asian country, which relies on garments for 80 percent of its exports. The industry employs about 3.6 million people, most of them women, some of whom earn as little as $38 a month.
In a development that may raise questions about the authorities’ handling of the rescue operation, a spokesman at the British High Commission on Monday confirmed that an offer of technical assistance from Britain had been declined.
Anger over the disaster has sparked days of protests and clashes, and paramilitary troops were deployed in the industrial hub of Gazipur as garment workers took to the streets again on Monday, smashing cars and setting fire to an ambulance.
The unrest forced authorities to shut down many factories, which had reopened on Monday after two days of closures. Police fired teargas to disperse protesters.
The main opposition has called for a national strike on May 2 in protest over the incident.
Emdadul Islam, chief engineer of the state-run Capital Development Authority, said last week that Rana had not received the proper construction consent for the building, and had illegally added three stories to the original five.
Writing by Alex Richardson and Nick Macfie