5,000 workers rally in Bangladesh

Thousands of mostly garment factory workers rallied in the Bangladeshi capital Monday to demand the United States and Europe drop tariffs on their products, saying they could eventually cause the industry's collapse.

Many others among the estimated 5,000 May Day protesters called for better working conditions in the country's notoriously dangerous factories, where accidents such as fires or buildings collapsing kill or injure dozens of people every year.

The protesters, beating drums and singing as they marched through the streets of downtown Dhaka, carried placards and banners that read, "As LDC (Least Developed Country), we want duty free access" and "No more death in factories."

They accused developed countries of cheating poorer nations, by using their influence in the World Trade Organization to achieve its aims without considering the needs of countries such as Bangladesh.

Textiles are Bangladesh's main export, bringing in about US$6 billion ( Ђ 4.79 billion) in revenue every year, mainly from America and Europe. But exporters say the sector needs duty free access to U.S. and European markets for its survival after a quota system was withdrawn in January 2005.

"WTO protects developed world's interests," Nazma Akter, President of the Combined Garments Workers Federation, told The Associated Press at the rally. "If we don't get better access of our products to the developed markets, what will we do with the WTO?"

She said the country needs better access for its textile products to the developed markets to help Bangladesh's economy grow and to protect about 1.8 million garment workers, mostly female, at its 2500 factories, reports the AP.

I.L.