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Thousands protest after Bangladesh fire traps workers, kills at least 112

DHAKA, Bangladesh -- Thousands of Bangladeshi workers blocked the streets of a Dhaka suburb Monday, throwing stones at factories and smashing vehicles, as they demanded justice for at least 112 people killed in a garment-factory fire that highlighted unsafe conditions in an industry rushing to produce for major retailers around the world.

Another fire broke out in a multi-story garment factory in a Dhaka suburb on Monday, but a fire department official said the blaze was under control and there were no immediate reports that anyone had died in the latest blaze.

Some 200 factories were closed for the day after the protest erupted in Savar, the industrial zone where Saturday's deadly fire occurred. Protesters blocked a major highway.

Workers shout slogans Monday as they protest against the death of their colleagues after a weekend fire in a garment factory in Savar, Bangladesh, killed more than 100 people.Andrew Biraj / Reuters

The government announced that Tuesday will be a day of national mourning, with the national flag flying at half-mast in honor of the dead.

Fire official: No emergency exit

Investigators suspect that a short circuit caused the fire, said Maj. Mohammad Mahbub, fire department operations director. But he said it was not the fire itself but the lack of safety measures in the eight-story building that made it so deadly.

Fire sweeps clothing factory in Bangladesh -- more than 100 killed

"Had there been at least one emergency exit through outside the factory, the casualties would have been much lower," Mahbub said.

He said firefighters recovered at least 100 bodies from the factory, and 12 more people died at hospitals after jumping from the building to escape the fire.

Local media reported that up to 124 people were killed.

"I haven't been able to find my mother," one worker, who gave her name as Shahida, told Reuters. "I demand justice. I demand that the owner be arrested."

Mohammad Ripu, a survivor, said Monday that he tried to run out of the building when the fire alarm rang but was stopped.

"Managers told us, 'Nothing happened. The fire alarm had just gone out of order. Go back to work,'" Ripu said. "But we quickly understood that there was a fire. As we again ran for the exit point we found it locked from outside, and it was too late."

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Ripu said he jumped from a second-floor window and suffered minor injuries.

Mahbub said the fire broke out on the ground floor, which was used as a warehouse, and spread quickly to the upper floors. He said many workers who retreated to the roof were rescued, but dozens of others were trapped; firefighters recovered 69 bodies from the second floor alone.

Many victims were burned beyond recognition. The bodies were laid out in rows at a school nearby. Many of them were handed over to families; unclaimed victims were taken to Dhaka Medical College for identification.

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Hazardous conditions are widespread

The garment-factory fire was Bangladesh's deadliest in recent memory, but such dangers have long been a fact of life as the industry has mushroomed to meet demand from major retailers around the world.

At least 500 people have died in clothing factory accidents in Bangladesh since 2006, according to fire department officials.

The Savar factory is owned by Tazreen Fashions Ltd., a subsidiary of the Tuba Group. Neither Tazreen nor Tuba Group officials could be reached for comment.

The Tuba Group is a major Bangladeshi garment exporter whose clients include Wal-Mart, Carrefour and IKEA, according to its website.

Bangladesh has some 4,000 garment factories, many without proper safety measures. The country annually earns about $20 billion from exports of garment products, mainly to the United States and Europe.

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The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association said it would stand by the victims' families and offered $1,250 to each of the families of the dead. The association's acting president, Siddiqur Rahman, said on a talk show late Sunday that Tazreen's owner was to meet with group representatives on Monday.

"We will discuss what other things we can do for the families of the dead," Rahman said on Rtv, a private television station. "We are worried about what has happened. We hope to discuss everything in detail in that meeting."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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