13 Sep 2012

Murder charges laid over Karachi factory fire

9:02 pm on 13 September 2012

Prosecutors in Pakistan have filed murder charges against factory bosses and government officials over the deaths of 289 people in the country's worst industrial disaster.

Workers were suffocated or burnt alive at the Ali Enterprises garment factory in Karachi, which made clothing for export to the West, when a massive fire tore through it on Tuesday night.

Up to 600 people were working inside at the time, in a building that officials said was in poor condition without emergency exits, forcing dozens to jump from upper storeys to escape the flames, but trapping dozens in the basement where they perished.

The government has ordered an inquiry and a senior official told AFP that the two brothers who owned the factory have been barred from leaving the country.

The case has been filed against Abdul Aziz, Mohammad Arshad and Shahid Bhaila and other members of the management of Ali Enterprises. Police are hunting for the factory owners, who have not been seen since the blaze.

The government of Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital, has appointed a retired judge to lead an investigation into the fire, with initial findings expected in a week.

The probe will look into the cause of the fire, protection systems available inside the building and the extent of negligence on the owners' part, a government statement said.

Karachi, Pakistan's biggest city with a population of 18 million, shut down in mourning on Thursday for the deaths. Public transport was suspended and schools and colleges closed. Factories and markets also shut while attendance at offices was thin.

Relatives spent a second day at hospitals, desperate for news of their loved ones. With so many burnt beyond recognition, only 140 of the dead had been identified by Thursday morning, some by DNA, and 115 bodies handed back to families for burial, city police chief Iqbal Mehmood said.

Meanwhile, the government has also ordered an inquiry into a fire at a shoe factory which killed 25 people in Lahore earlier on Tuesday. A faulty generator is suspected.