Tears and anger as survivors mark Bangladesh factory disaster

SAVAR, Bangladesh (AFP) - Tearful and angry survivors of the Rana Plaza disaster gathered at the factory site Friday to protest against poor compensation on the two-year anniversary of the tragedy that claimed more than 1,100 lives.

About 2,000 survivors, some on crutches, and families of victims held hands in a show of solidarity at the ruins of the factory complex which imploded in 2013 in one of the world's worst industrial disasters.

From early morning, the crowd, many clutching photos of loved ones, gathered at a makeshift memorial at the site to protest a range of concerns including poor factory safety standards and a lack of compensation.

"I only got one million taka (S$17,288) from the prime minister's fund, but nothing from the trust fund created to help the victims," Rehana Akhter, whose leg was amputated after she become trapped under tonnes of debris, said.

The trust fund was set up by retailers and labour groups in the wake of the tragedy.

"I can't now work. I need expensive medicines and I have a family to look after," the 24-year-old told AFP, supporting herself with a crutch, at the site in Savar outside the capital Dhaka.

The collapse triggered international outrage and put pressure on European and US brands who had placed orders at the nine-storey complex to improve the woeful pay and conditions at Bangladesh's 4,500 garment factories.

Western retailers linked to the disaster include Spanish brand Mango, Italian brand Benetton, British retailer Primark and French retailer Auchan.

Two years on, nearly US$25 million (S$33.4 million) in compensation has been paid out to survivors and relatives of the dead.

Many wept openly as they placed flowers and wreaths at the memorial and some sat silently on the rubble, but others angrily shouted slogans against Western retailers.

"We had high hopes that the Rana Plaza collapse would be a wake-up call for the government and the retailers," union leader Taslim Akhter told AFP.

"Two years on, many factories are far from safe. We have had several deadly factory fires since Rana Plaza. Millions of workers still don't have enough labour rights," Akhter, who leads the Bangladesh Garment Workers Solidarity, said.

Some 2,500 factories have been inspected since the tragedy, but global labour group IndustriALL said on the eve of the anniversary that safety upgrades were running behind schedule and none were considered "100 percent safe".

For others, the anniversary was a chance to protest against a failure to find some 135 workers, presumed killed in the disaster, but whose bodies have never been recovered.

"I want to know where my daughter is buried. For two years I've been asking this question but nobody has any answer," said Jaheda Begum, 55, holding a photograph of her 35-year-old daughter Saleha Begum.

The sporadic discovery of remains has fuelled the anger of relatives who say authorities were too quick to send in the bulldozers to shovel up most of the debris.

By the time the three-week rescue operation ended, a total of 1,129 bodies had been recovered.

Bangladesh's garment industry, the world's second largest after China, has bounced back since the tragedy, with shipments last year standing at US$25 billion.