Bangladesh defends rejection of foreign aid for collapse

Andrew North reports on the "angry surge running through Bangladesh"

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Bangladesh has defended its decision to turn down foreign help following Wednesday's collapse of a building near Dhaka that killed at least 382 people.

Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir told the BBC authorities were confident they could deal with the crisis and emergency services did "a good job".

Hundreds are thought to be trapped but hope of finding more alive is fading.

Most victims are thought to be garment factory workers. The building's owner has been arrested.

Mohammed Sohel Rana is one of eight people detained, along with at least two garment factory owners.

Analysis

It's unusual for countries to decline help when disaster strikes - whether they are rich or poor.

Hundreds of rescuers converged on Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, for example. They performed similar work to that needed in Bangladesh.

Japan, a far richer country, also accepted substantial help following its earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

Bangladesh's Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir said no help was needed because the local emergency services were well equipped.

This would appear to have been contradicted by the sometimes poorly-equipped volunteers scrabbling through the rubble and the apparent starting of a fire by people trying to cut their way through the building.

A senior diplomat with the UN's International Search and Rescue Advisory Group said an offer of help was made to Bangladesh very early on "because the lifesaving window of opportunity is in the first few days".

But, according to the diplomat, the Bangladesh government said it would manage the situation through domestic means.

They face allegations of negligence, illegal construction and persuading workers to enter the building in Savar - a day after visible cracks appeared.

Separately two companies whose suppliers were based in the building, Britain's Primark and Canada's Loblaw, said on Monday they would pay compensation and offer emergency food aid to victims who worked for their suppliers.

'Proud'

Mr Alamgir said that the Bangladeshi authorities "were confident we could manage it ourselves" in the rescue operation and had "enough people" involved in the rescue operation.

He pointed out that nearly 2,430 of at least 3,000 people who had been in the building survived.

The minister said this figure was "better than the average international effort in such cases".

"We did a good job and I am proud of my people - the firemen, the military, the police, the local volunteers who all came in to help."

Bangladesh's economy

  • A total population of some 150.4 million, 88% under the age of 55.
  • GDP in 2012 was around $110bn - the ready-made garment (RMG) industry makes up 80% of all exports, totalling more than $15bn in 2012-13 financial year.
  • About four million people are directly employed in the RMG industry, most of them women, earning an average monthly salary of roughly $40.

Mr Alamgir added that foreign countries had not provided a list of specialist equipment Bangladesh had asked for.

Both the UK government and the United Nations have said they had teams of experts ready to head out to Bangladesh, but their offer of help was turned down.

'No-one seen alive'

Anger at the building's collapse has triggered days of violent protests in Dhaka demanding those responsible be punished and for an improvement in factory conditions.

Garment industry workers across the country were given the weekend off, in the hope that the anger would fade.

But on Monday, thousands of workers walked out of factories in the Ashulia and Gazipur industrial districts shortly after they opened, and staged a protest march, reportedly setting fire to an ambulance.

Bangladesh has one of the largest garment industries in the world, providing cheap clothing for major Western retailers that benefit from its widespread low-cost labour.

But the industry has been widely criticised for its low pay and limited rights given to workers and for the often dangerous working conditions in garment factories.

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