One shot dead as Bangladesh footwear workers riot

DHAKA (AFP) - Bangladesh police killed one woman when they opened fire Thursday on workers protesting at feared wage cuts in the footwear industry after hundreds went on the rampage at a South Korean export zone, an officer said.

Some 5,000 workers staged demonstrations at the private Korean Export Processing Zone in the southern port city of Chittagong, following a rumour about the scrapping of employee benefits.

Police fired live rounds after some protesters clashed with officers and vandalised one of the factories in the industrial zone, owned by Korean footwear and garment giant Youngone.

A 20-year-old female worker died in hospital after being hit with a bullet, head of industrial police Tofael Ahmed told AFP.

"The workers vandalised the factory and then attacked police over a rumour that the factory authorities have cut some of their benefits from this month's wages," Mr Ahmed said, adding that police used tear gas before opening fire.

At least 15 people including police officers were injured, according to the online edition of Bengali daily Prothom Alo.

The riot was the first on a large scale by workers in Bangladesh's rapidly expanding footwear industry, which has been booming in recent years following investment by Korean, Chinese and Taiwanese companies.

Tens of thousands of workers in the garment industry in Bangladesh - the world's second largest textile exporter - have in recent months held violent protests for better wages and conditions.

The protests intensified following the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex in April last year that left 1,135 people dead.

The tragedy highlighted appalling conditions in Bangladesh's more than 4,000 apparel plants, where workers stitch clothes for top Western retailers such as Walmart, H&M and Tesco.

The authorities last month raised minimum wages for the country's four million garment workers by 77 per cent to US$68 ($S 86) a month.

But there has been no hike for hundreds of thousands of footwear workers.

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