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A Bangladeshi textile factory fired

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At least 65 people were killed and more than 100 hurt when a fire swept through a locked textile factory crowded with night-shift workers in southern Bangladesh.

Up to 500 people, mainly women, were believed to be working in the KTS Composite Textile factory in the southern city of Chittagong when the fire broke out on Thursday night, local fire chief Rashedul Islam said.

Firefighters had found the main entrance to the factory locked, he said, and were forced to rescue trapped workers by breaking open windows and using ropes.

The fire, believed to have been started by a short circuit, whipped quickly through the four-storey building because of stacks of yarn lying on the floors and encroaching onto stairways, making it impossible for some workers to escape.

"We have just managed to put out the fire," a weary Islam said. The building was still smouldering, he added, but rescue operations were over.

Prime Minister Khaleda Zia was to have visited the gutted factory later on Friday, an official said.

Several platoons of army troops helped in the all-night rescue after firefighters struggled to contain the blaze with their limited equipment.

Immediately after the fire, the elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) raided homes of the owners of the factory after primary findings showed the fire was due to faulty safety measures, Chittagong RAB chief Hasinur Rahman said.

"The owners went into hiding after the fire," he said.

Witnesses said an explosion preceded the fire.

"The main gate was locked when we heard a loud noise followed by fire and an electricity cut," a worker who escaped the inferno told ATN Bangla television.

"Some neighbours cut open the window grilles to help us out of the factory."

The toll might have been higher, but people working in neighbouring factories brought in bamboo ladders and ropes to rescue those trapped on the upper floors, factory security guard Ful Mia said.

He said about 1,000 people are employed at the factory, but many were on their dinner breaks when the fire broke out.

"We have searched every room of the factory. We don't think there are any more dead bodies inside," Colonel Munshi Mizanur Rahman of the Bangladesh army said.

Salauddin Ahmed, a doctor at the emergency ward of Chittagong Medical College Hospital, said about 60 people were hospitalized, "mostly with burn injuries and some with broken ribs after they jumped from the upper floors."

He said at least 25 people were in critical condition. About 40 injured people were treated at the scene.

One witness said he saw people jumping from the third floor to escape the blaze.

Bangladesh is home to about 4,000 textile factories, which have been plagued by accidents owing to poor safety standards.

Textiles are Bangladesh's biggest export, bringing in nearly 80 per cent of its total foreign exchange earnings.

In November 2000, at least 48 workers died and more than 150 were injured when they were trapped in a burning factory near Dhaka because of a locked fire exit.

Six people were killed earlier this month at a textile factory fire near Dhaka. Last April, more than 70 people died when an illegally constructed garment factory collapsed.

(China Daily

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