Textile factories reopen after Bangladesh disaster

DHAKA (AFP) - Bangladesh's textile industry reopened for business on Thursday following an eight-day shutdown triggered by the collapse of a factory compound that killed at least 427 people, employees said.

Millions of staff began returning to their workplaces around the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka where they usually churn out clothing for top Western retailers such as Walmart and H&M, but which have closed since last Wednesday's disaster.

"All factories have opened today and the workers have returned to work," said Shahidullah Azim, vice president of the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association.

"We don't have any reports of protests or violence," he told AFP.

Workers walked out en masse on April 24 following the collapse of the eight-storey Rana Plaza compound in a northwestern suburb of Dhaka, the latest in a string of deadly disasters to hit the $20 billion industry.

There have been a series of attacks on factories over the last week and anger over the conditions of garment workers - many of whom earn less than 40 dollars a month - was the main focus of May Day rallies on Wednesday.

Some three million people are employed in the country's 4,500 textile plants which are a mainstay of the impoverished country's economy. The shutdown is estimated to have the industry about $25 million a day, according to Azim.

Police confirmed that there had so far been no reports of further violence overnight.

"So far the situation is peaceful," said Shymal Mukherjee, deputy police chief of Dhaka district told AFP.

Speaking to parliament on Tuesday, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had urged employees to return to work and criticised reported attacks on some factories.

"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," she said.

Army spokesman Major Mahmud, who uses one name, told AFP that 17 more bodies had been recovered from the rubble of the collapsed building overnight, raising the confirmed death toll to 427.

The overall toll is expected to top 500 as officials said on Wednesday that 149 people were still unaccounted for.

Bangladesh is the world's second largest garment exporter after China and the industry accounts for 80 percent of the country's exports and more than 40 percent of its industrial workforce.

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