Asia

Bangladesh building collapse: Death toll passes 400

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Media captionThe BBC's Anbarasan Ethirajan reports from Dhaka on the fallout from last week's building collapse

The number of people killed in the collapse of a building in Bangladesh which housed garment factories last week has passed 400, officials say.

At least 149 people are still believed to be missing underneath the remains of the eight-storey Rana Plaza in Savar, a town on the outskirts of Dhaka.

At May Day parades in the capital, workers demanded the death penalty for the building's owner.

The Rana Plaza collapse is the nation's worst industrial disaster.

Bangladesh has one of the largest garment industries in the world, and some of the clothes produced in the building were made for Western retailers.

Police officials confirmed on Wednesday that 399 bodies had been pulled from the wreckage, and that another three people had died in hospital.

An army general said the list of the missing had been drawn up by local officials and was confirmed by Dhaka district administrator Zillur Rahman Chowdhury.

Earlier estimates had put the figure far higher, but this may have been as a result of duplications. Some 2,500 people were injured in the disaster.

'Hang the killers'

The building was turned into 600 tons of rubble in the disaster, about 350 tons of which has now been cleared.

The number of people at the main Dhaka protest was put at about 20,000, with other demonstrations in separate parts of the capital and in other cities.

Image caption Mass graves are prepared to receive bodies of unidentified garment workers

Some in Dhaka held banners with the words: "Hang the killers, Hang the Factory Owners".

One protester blared through a loudspeaker: "My brother has died. My sister has died. Their blood will not be valueless."

Kamrul Anam, of the Bangladesh Textile and Garments Workers League, said the building collapse was murder, telling AFP: "We want the severest punishment possible for those responsible for this tragedy."

The protesters also demanded better working conditions.

Garment worker Mongidul Islam Rana told Associated Press: "We want regular salaries, raises and absolutely we want better safety in our factories."

Rana Plaza owner Mohammed Sohel Rana, a local leader of the youth wing of the ruling Awami League party, is in police custody.

A total of eight people have been arrested, including factory owners and engineers, and they have been accused of negligence.

Cracks had appeared in Rana Plaza, in the Savar district, the day before the collapse but the staff were reportedly told to continue work.

Image caption Some 350 tons of the 600 tons of rubble has so far been cleared at the Rana Plaza collapse

Many factories have been closed since the disaster, with regular street protests.

On Tuesday night, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina urged people to return to work.

She said in parliament: "I would like to tell the workers to keep their head cool, keep mills and factories operative, otherwise you will end up losing your jobs."

Speaking at his regular morning Mass at the Vatican, Pope Francis called the working conditions of those who died in Bangladesh "slave labour".

"Not paying a fair wage, not giving a job because you are only looking at balance sheets, only looking to make a profit, that goes against God," he said.

Meanwhile, the European Union said it was considering "appropriate action" to encourage improvements in working conditions in Bangladesh factories.

It said its actions may include the use of its trade preference system, which gives Bangladesh duty- and quota-free access to EU markets.

Bangladesh's garment industry makes up almost 80% of the country's annual exports provides employment to about four million people.

However, it has faced criticism over low pay and limited rights given to workers, and for the often dangerous working conditions in factories.