A fire that killed 111 textile workers in Bangladesh was caused by "an act of sabotage", authorities said, as protesters and factories workers across the country took to the streets for a second day to express their anger over the tragedy.
Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir, the interior minister, said on Tuesday that according to a preliminary inquiry, the fire at Tazreen garment factory in Dhaka over the weekend was the result of arson. He promised to bring the culprits to justice.
"We have come to the conclusion that it was an act of sabotage. We are finding out as of now who exactly the saboteurs
are and all culprits will be brought to book," Alamgir said.
Earlier, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said she suspected the fire was an act of sabotage, but she did not identify any suspect or say why she thought the cause might have been arson.
More than 1,000 workers, some carrying black flags, demonstrated in the Ashulia industrial belt on the outskirts of
the capital where the factory is located.
They blocked traffic moving on a highway and vowed to avenge the deaths of their colleagues, witnesses said.
"Never shall we give up demands for punishment for those responsible for the tragedy," one worker said.
Habibur Rahman, Dhaka district police chief, told Reuters news agency that his men were investigating complaints from some survivors that factory managers stopped workers from running out of the building when a fire alarm went off.
Representatives of the Tazreen Fashions factory, including the owner, were not available for comment.
'Violation of policies'
The developments in Bangladesh came a day after the US retail giant Walmart said it had ended its relationship with an unnamed supplier who sourced garments from the Tazreen factory.
|Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said she suspected the fire was an act of sabotage, but she did not elaborate [AFP]
The multinational company severed ties with its supplier as anger over safety standards in Bangladesh's clothes manufacturing industry mounted. Bangladesh offers cheap labour to many Western apparel brands for manufacturing.
In a statement issued on Monday, Walmart expressed its condolences to the victims' families and said: "The fact that this occurred is extremely troubling to us, and we will continue to work across the apparel industry to improve fire safety education and training in Bangladesh.
"A supplier subcontracted work to this factory without authorisation and in direct violation of our policies. The Tazreen factory was no longer authorised to produce merchandise for Walmart. Today, we have terminated the relationship with that supplier."
C&A, a European high-street name, and the Hong Kong-based Li & Fung, which also procured orders at the Tazreen factory, have separately expressed condolences.
Prominent fashion brands are likely to distance themselves from the scandal which could spell an imminent PR disaster.