At least 100 people were injured and 50 vehicles vandalised as police charged batons and fired rubber bullets and teargas canisters on protesting workers in Savar on Wednesday.
The workers put blockade on Dhaka-Aricha Highway, in front of the collapsed Rana Plaza, suspending all kinds of vehicular movements for about three hours causing severe gridlock on the busy motorway. Witnesses said hundreds of workers of collapsed Rana Plaza staged demonstration to put forward some demands including rehabilitation and the Savar victims, making a list of the missing and providing them with compensations, and awarding death sentence to the owner of the building.
The violence ensued as former president of Bangladesh Communist party Manzurul Ahsan Khan concluded his speech and left the scene. The workers instantly put barricade on the highway suspending all kinds of vehicular movement causing 10-kilometre long tailback.
“As we continued our demonstration, some leaders and activists of the Chhatra league and Juba League equipped with lethal weapons swooped on us in presence of police and tried to disperse us,” Shanta, a protesting worker told The Independent.
But the workers countered the assault by pelting stones and brickbats on the attackers triggering a fierce clash between the workers and ruling party leaders and activists and turning the Savar Bus Stand area into a battlefield that left 100 people injured.
A section of unruly workers damaged vehicles stranded on the road and police swung into action charging batons and firing teargas canisters, rubbers bullets to disperse them. The law enforcers arrested three people from the scene.
Sub-inspector Sheikh Farid Uddin told The Independent, “We could not identify anybody of Chhatra league or Juba League; we saw workers engaged in violence and damaged vehicles.”
“Savar Police Station and industrial police fired 20/25 rounds teargas canisters and rubber bullets to bring the situation under control,” he added.
Savar Upazila Assistant Commissioner (land) executive magistrate told journalists, “We will put forward their demands to higher authority and investigate the incident and those who attacked the workers.”
Meanwhile, several hundreds workers of seven garments factories located at Tejgaon Industrial Area in the city also blocked Tejgaon-Mohakhali and Gulshan link road at Tejgaon industrial area, demanding wage hike and overtime dues on Wednesday.
Witnesses said hundreds of workers from Sepal Garments factory took to the street at around 11:15am abstaining from work and staged demonstration in front of the factory and put barricade on Tejgaon-Gulshan link road.
At one stage, the workers brought out a procession and marched towards the neighbouring factory and asked the workers there to express their solidarity with them to meet their demands.
Sensing trouble and fearing vandalism, authorities of the six others neighbouring factories announced general holiday on Wednesday.
Immediately after the announcement, several hundred workers instantly joined the protesting workers and put blockade on Tejgaon-Mohakhali road.
Huge contingents of police and members of Rapid Action Battalion rushed to the scene and tried to clear the road but the workers didn’t pay any heed to repeated request of the law enforcers.
At one staged, police charged batons, teargas canisters to disperse the protestors, but the enraged workers countered it by pelting stones and brickbats on lawmen triggering a clash leaving 10 workers injured.
Deputy Commissioner Tejgaon Zone Biplab Kumar Sarkar told The Independent, “Police fired five rounds of gunshots in the air to bring the situation under control. Now everything is normal.”
Traffic on Tejgaon-Mohakhali and Gulshan link road finally resumed at around 12:45 pm after police dispersed the workers.
Some workers of Sepal Garments alleged that the management was demanding 12-hour work from them starting 7:00 am. But the workers insisted on overtime payment for two hours.
Far from it, they complained, work hours have been stretched by an hour and management was not providing any lunch or evening snacks.
They alleged the authority didn’t pay any heed to our demand although they assured us many times and thus we were forced to stage demonstration.
However, its owner and ruling coalition-backed Member of Parliament (MP), Tipu Munshi, told reporters the factory management had agreed to provide lunch allowance. “We decided to give Tk 25 to each worker for lunch, “ he added.
-With The Independent input