At least seven people have been killed when a fire swept through a garment factory in an industrial district of the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, police and an industry association official said.

Thursday’s fire, which broke out overnight in the Mirpur area, occurred as the death toll in a factory collapse outside the city two weeks ago soared to 1,000.

"It is not clear to us how the accident happened, but we are trying to find out the cause," Mohammad Atiqul Islam, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, told Reuters.

The fire broke out at a factory belonging to the Tung Hai Group, a large garment exporter, after most workers had gone home, police said.

"It was a big fire but we managed to confine it on one floor," Mahbubur Rahman, operations director of the nation's fire service department, said.

He said the victims died of suffocation after rushing into a stairwell and becoming overwhelmed by "toxic smoke from burnt acrylic clothing."

Local police chief Khalilur Rahman said the fire killed eight people including the owner, his four staff, a senior police officer, and a low-level police official.

There were no workers among the casualties as there was no overnight production, police officials said.

Worst industrial tragedy

On Wednesday the Bangladesh government said it had shut down 18 garment factories for safety reasons following the April 24 collapse of Rana Plaza, which housed five garment factories making clothes for Western brands.

The number of dead in the collapse, which was the worst garment manufacturing disaster in the world, passed 1,000, after more bodies were found in the rubble on Thursday.

Army spokesman Captain Shahnewaz Zakaria told AFP that the "death toll now stands at 1,000" as the recovery operation entered the 17th day since the building caved in at Savar town, 30km southwest of Dhaka.

Garment workers held protests calling for the building owner Mohammed Sohel Rana to be hanged. Rana was arrested from near the Indian border.

There are allegations that Rana and other building managers forced workers back into the factory shortly before it collapsed, despite warnings that it was unsafe.

The authorities have now started disbursing salaries and other benefits to survivors of the collapse.

On Wednesday, the European Union's delegation to Bangladesh urged the government to "act immediately" to improve working conditions.

Bangladesh's garment industry, which accounts for 80 percent of the South Asian country's exports, has seen a series of deadly accidents, including a fire in November that killed 112 people.

Source: Agencies