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Death toll in Bangladesh building collapse climbs to 622
Serajul Quadir and Ruma Paul | Reuters
9:03 a.m. EDT, May 5, 2013

DHAKA (Reuters) – The wife of a Bangladeshi garment worker who was killed when a building collapsed filed a murder complaint against the building’s owner on Sunday as the death toll from the country’s worst industrial disaster climbed to 622.

Murder complaints were also filed against the owner of one of the garment factories inside the building and a municipal engineer in the suburb of the capital, Dhaka, where the factory was located.

The owner of the Rana Plaza building, Mohammed Sohel Rana, was arrested after a four-day hunt as he appeared to be trying to flee across the border to India.

He is one of nine people being held in connection with the April 24 disaster, which the government has blamed on the building’s faulty, illegal construction.

Rana and the others in police custody could face the death penalty if found guilty of murder or mass manslaughter.

None of the accused has commented publicly on the accusation that they were to blame.

Hundreds of relatives gathered at the site of the disaster on Sunday, some holding up photographs of family members. A teenage girl broke down in tears when she recognized the body of her mother by her dress, after she was brought from the ruins.

In all, 53 bodies were recovered on Sunday and rescue workers said they could see more trapped in the rubble. The smell of decomposing bodies hung in the air.

Authorities have found it increasingly difficult to identify bodies and are using ID cards found on them or even their mobile phones to do so.

Rana appeared in court on Monday last week dressed in a helmet and bullet-proof jacket, in front of a crowd of protesters demanding he be hanged. He is a local leader of the ruling Awami League’s youth front.

The woman who lodged the murder case against Rana said her husband had been forced to go to work in his factory in the building despite huge cracks appearing in the walls a day before it collapsed, a lawyer said.

“If they are found guilty of these killings they will get the highest punishment – capital punishment,” said Abdul Huq, a lawyer working at the court where the cases were lodged.

The government has blamed the owners and builders of the eight-storey complex for using shoddy building materials, including substandard rods, bricks and cement, and not obtaining the necessary clearances.

The poor construction meant the building was unable to support the generators running inside, the Export Promotion Bureau, a wing of the Commerce Ministry, said in a report.

The bureau has recommended paying compensation to the victims’ families and inspecting the safety of other factories, a senior official with knowledge of the report told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The disaster, believed to have been triggered when the generators were started up during a blackout, put the spotlight on Western retailers who use the impoverished South Asian nation as a source of cheap goods.

About 4 million people work in Bangladesh’s garment industry, making it the world’s second-largest apparel exporter after China. Some earn as little as $38 a month, conditions Pope Francis has compared to “slave labor”.

Mohammad Atiqul Islam, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, told Reuters the Pope did not know the full picture and his group would send a letter to the Vatican describing conditions in Bangladeshi factories.

(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Robert Birsel)