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Owners of factory that burned down charged by Bangladeshi court

DHAKA--A Bangladesh court Tuesday ordered the arrest of owners of a garment factory where 111 workers were killed last year in the country's worst such fire, after police laid charges.

The court in Dhaka issued the warrants for Delwar Hossain and his wife Mahmuda Akter and four other owners over the blaze that gutted the Tazreen factory where workers stitched clothes for Western retailers including Walmart.

Senior judicial magistrate Wasim Sheikh gave the order after declaring six of the defendants “fugitives” for failing to appear in court over charges laid by police earlier this month against 13 people over the tragedy, a prosecutor said.

The magistrate formally accepted the charges against the 13 including the owners, factory managers and security guards, who all face a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.

“Dhaka's senior judicial magistrate Wasim Sheikh issued the warrants of arrest against the two fugitive owners ... and four other company officials for the Tazreen factory fire,” prosecutor Anwarul Kabir told AFP.

“The owners and 11 others have been charged with arson, culpable homicide not amounting to murder and death by negligence,” Kabir said. Seven of those charged were in court or in custody.

The fire, the country's deadliest at a garment factory, highlighted appalling safety problems in the sector, a mainstay of the economy, where about four million workers toil for some of the lowest sector wages in the world.

The country suffered an even greater tragedy just months later in April when the Rana Plaza garment factory complex collapsed in Dhaka's outskirts, killing 1,135 people in one of the world's worst industrial disasters.

The arrest order signals local authorities' toughening stance against influential garment manufacturers who openly flout safety rules for Bangladesh's 4,500 garment factories, where deadly accidents are common.

Police last week said it was possibly the first time an owner has been charged over a fire in the sector, which accounts for up to 80 percent of the impoverished country's exports.

Delwar Hossain, who since the tragedy has been barred from leaving the country, has been accused of breaching construction rules, including building unsafe and narrow staircases in the nine-story building.

Hossain, who is the managing director of the factory, and his wife the chairperson, could not be reached for comment despite several calls to his mobile phone.

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