Pakistan court bails fire factory owners

Three factory-owners facing murder charges over the deaths of 289 people in a huge fire in Karachi handed themselves in to court Friday as Pakistan police described the moment the flames took hold.

Workers burned to death or suffocated in the massive blaze that engulfed Ali Enterprises clothing factory, which made ready-to-wear clothes for export to Western retailers, on Tuesday evening.

Investigators are studying a crucial two-minute section of footage filmed by six closed-circuit cameras inside the factory as the fire broke out and caused terror among workers in a matter of seconds.

Police registered a murder case over the fire on Thursday, saying the owners -- Abdul Aziz, Mohammad Arshad and Shahid Bhaila -- had shown "utter negligence" about workers' safety.

The trio, who have not been arrested, appeared in the high court in Larkana, 450 kilometres (300 miles) north of Karachi, and were granted "protective bail" for eight days, their lawyer Aamir Mansoor Qureshi told AFP.

He said they went to the court because they feared for their lives in Karachi, a metropolis of 18 million people which came to a standstill on Thursday as a mark of respect for the victims of Pakistan's worst ever industrial fire.

A court official confirmed the ruling, which means the owners cannot be arrested before September 22, and said the judge had ordered them to appear in court in Karachi before the bail expires.

They have also been barred from leaving Pakistan.

The only exit from the factory was through a door with an electronic lock which failed when the fire disrupted the power supply, senior police official Niaz Khoso told AFP, leaving workers trapped.

"The fire basically erupted on the first floor, where a group of people were sorting out the finished material," Khoso told AFP.

"A large quantity of finished garments are piled on the floor and workers are calmly busy in their work," he said, after reviewing the camera footage.

Sparks are then seen coming from electricity cables, which he said were of poor quality and installed unusually low in the walls.

"At 18:56 the images of fire come on screen. Workers start running helter-skelter as everything gets murky with the smoke amid the sparks of fire," he said.

"At the same time, people on the rest of the building get sense of the fire and start running for safety and then probably cameras are destroyed one-by-one and the footage abruptly ends."

The tragedy has prompted anger in Pakistan over the dismal safety standards endured by industrial workers, who toil in dangerous working conditions for poor wages, often to produce goods for export to Western customers.

Ali Enterprises produced ready-to-wear clothes for companies in Europe and North America, though precisely which brands it supplied remains unclear.

"The fire is definitely accidental, but what is more important and criminal is that the owners had given no exits to the workers to get saved in case of emergency," Khoso said.

"The only gate from where people come and go had electronic locking, which failed to open when fire disrupted the power supply."

The industries minister for Sindh, the province of which Karachi is the capital, submitted his resignation on Friday to avoid any suggestion of interference in the investigation into the fire.

  • COMMENT: Xenophobia rears its ugly head in Singapore once more Sat, Apr 19, 2014
    COMMENT: Xenophobia rears its ugly head in Singapore once more

    Kirsten Han is a Singaporean blogger, journalist and filmmaker. She is also involved in the We Believe in Second Chances campaign for the abolishment of the death penalty. A social media junkie, she tweets at @kixes. The views expressed are … Continue reading →

  • Driving a $900,000 Porsche 918 Spyder to the future Sat, Apr 19, 2014
    Driving a $900,000 Porsche 918 Spyder to the future

    It’s more than just its inherent speed, or the whooshing noise that fills the cabin like a school choir jamming with James Hetfield. It’s what it represents in an industry full of skeptics. It’s a portal into the future – a time capsule left by some mad scientist born decades too soon. It’s something that shouldn’t exist. And yet it does.

  • COMMENT: Xenophobia rears its ugly head in Singapore once more
    COMMENT: Xenophobia rears its ugly head in Singapore once more

    Kirsten Han is a Singaporean blogger, journalist and filmmaker. She is also involved in the We Believe in Second Chances campaign for the abolishment of the death penalty. A social media junkie, she tweets at @kixes. The views expressed are … Continue reading →

  • 5 Unanswered Questions About Jesus
    5 Unanswered Questions About Jesus

    As Christians worldwide gather for Easter to celebrate their belief in the death and rebirth of Jesus, researchers continue to delve into the mysteries that surround the man. The following are five questions about Jesus that, for now, at least, remain unanswered. In 2008, astronomer Dave Reneke argued that the Star of Bethlehem (a celestial event long associated with Jesus' birth) may have been Venus and Jupiter coming together to form a bright light in the sky. Other researchers have claimed that a similar conjunction between Saturn and Jupiter occurred in October of 7 B.C. Still others have claimed that Jesus was born in the spring, based on stories about shepherds watching over their flocks in fields on the night of Jesus' birth — something they would have done in the spring, not the winter.