Pakistan factory owners in deadly blaze get bail

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KARACHI, Pakistan — A Pakistani court granted bail to three owners of a garment factory in the southern city of Karachi where a fire this week killed 258 people, a defense lawyer said Friday, infuriating families of those who perished in the country’s worst industrial accident.

Pakistani police have opened a murder case and are investigating whether possible negligence by the owners and managers of the garment factory led to the massive loss of life in the Tuesday night fire.

The horrific way the factory workers died has infuriated many Pakistanis. People caught in the basement suffocated when it filled with smoke while those on the higher floors were forced to break through metal bars over the windows and jump for their lives to the ground below.

News that the men had been granted bail without even being arrested, a legal practice in Pakistan which allows people to avoid jail, outraged families still grieving their dead.

“The owners of the garment factory should be arrested and hanged as quickly as possible,” said Zaitoon Bibi, who lost her son in the fire. “I do not think I will get justice as these owners are powerful and rich.”

A lawyer for the men, Amir Mansoob Qureshi, said the judge instructed the police that the factory owners cannot be arrested for eight days under bail terms. The court also asked the owners to surrender their passports and ordered them not to leave the country, the lawyer said.

He said the men went to the city of Larkana, north of Karachi, to ask for bail because they feared for their safety in Karachi.

One of the factory owners, Arshad Bhaila, blamed the city’s firefighters for the deaths, saying in televised comments that they arrived late to extinguish the blaze.

In his first public comments since the disaster, Bhaila said they would look after all the families of the dead and injured.

The blaze was the deadliest industrial accident in Pakistan’s 65-year history, and highlighted the woeful safety conditions that exist at many factories around the country.

An officer at Karachi’s central fire station, Hasan Raza, said firefighters had been dispatched to the scene almost immediately. Within an hour the blaze had been designated as the highest priority, and 26 fire engines were on the scene, he said.

Survivors said they had only one way out of the building since the factory’s owner had locked all the other exit doors after a recent theft. Bhaila denied that they had locked the doors.

The fire started when a boiler exploded and the flames ignited chemicals that were stored in the factory, which manufactured jeans and other clothes for export.

In a separate development Friday, security officials briefly arrested the son of the recently ousted Pakistani prime minister for his alleged role in helping two pharmaceutical companies obtain huge amounts of ephedrine for drug trading, his lawyer said. He was taken into custody just before he was to appear at a hearing before the Supreme Court.

The arrest and immediate release of Ali Musa, the son of former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, is another example of the festering standoff between Pakistan’s powerful military and an increasingly activist court that has been using its influence to hold Pakistan’s political and military leaders to account.

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