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Bangladesh sends paramilitary units to break up workers protests (VIDEO)

Garment workers supplying top Western fashion brands have been demanding higher pay

Paramilitary security forces in Bangladesh fired rubber bullets, tear gas and used batons against garment industry workers on Thursday amid continuing violent protests over pay.

The AFP news agency quoted witnesses as saying that riot police had opened fire on a crowd of hundreds, with as many as eight people getting hit. At least three deaths have been reported since the unrest started two weeks ago. Dozens of factories have also been ransacked.

The authorities employed an anti-terrorism unit of the police and a paramilitary auxiliary security force to disperse the riots.

The garment workers unions have been demanding a tripling of their wages, from an equivalent of roughly $75 a month to $208 a month. The government agreed on Tuesday to raise wages by just over 56% to $114 a month from December, the first increase in five years, according to Reuters. The unions rejected the proposal and the protests escalated.

On Friday, the country’s prime minister rejected the unions’ demands for a higher pay rise.

Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest clothing exporter after China. Four million people are employed at its 3,500 garment factories, which supply top brands such as Levi’s, Zara and H&M.

READ MORE: Western clothing giants reversing China exit plans – Bloomberg

The garment industry accounts for 85% of Bangladesh’s $55 billion in annual exports, and for 16% of the country’s GDP.

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