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South Asia

Owner of collapsed Bangladesh garment factory building arrested

The owner of the factory building that collapsed in Bangladesh, killing hundreds of people, has been arrested. Meanwhile fears that the death toll could rise sharply persist with 900 people still missing.

Mohammed Sohel Rana was arrested Sunday trying to flee to India, police said. News of the arrest by the elite Rapid Action Battalion was met with cheers and claps when it was announced over the loudspeaker at the site of the building collapse in the Dhaka suburb of Savar.

At least 362 people are confirmed to have died in the accident, which occurred when the eight-story structure collapsed on Wednesday.

Rana, the leader of the ruling Awami League's youth front, was last seen in public in front of Rana Plaza after huge cracks appeared in the structure. He assured his tenants, however, that the building was safe. A bank and some shops on the first floor closed after police ordered the structure evacuated, but managers of the five garment factories upstairs told their workers to continue their shifts.

Hundreds unaccounted for

Many of the garment factory workers were trapped under the rubble when the building collapsed. A garment manufacturer's group estimated that 3,122 workers were employed at the building, but it is unclear how many were present when it collapsed. So far an estimated 2,500 people have been accounted for.

Four people were pulled out of the rubble alive on Sunday, and rescuers are continuing their frantic search for more survivors.

"The chances of finding people alive are dimming, so we have to step up our rescue operation to save any valuable life we can," said Major General Chowdhury Hassan Sohrawardi, coordinator of the operation site.

Wednesday's factory collapse is the worst ever disaster for Bangladesh's garment industry, a key part of the country's economy worth an estimated $20 billion (15.3 billion euros) annually. The incident, as well as one at a garment factory five months ago that killed 112 people, has raised concerns over safety standards in the industry. Officials say that Rana Plaza was built on spongy ground without correct permits and three of its floors were constructed illegally.

dr/mkg (Reuters, AP)