The office of Korean Export Processing Zone remained closed yesterday after local protesters backed by influential quarters besieged all key entry points to the zone.
At a rally on Sunday, the demonstrators, comprising some sacked and incumbent workers of the country's lone private economic zone, aided by outsiders, declared that they would prevent any KEPZ official from entering the office.
“We did not go to the office, as the demonstrators have threatened to stop us at any cost,” Mohammad Hasan Nasir, managing director of the EPZ, said yesterday.
The authorities declared the office closed for the day, according to Muktadir Islam, security manager of the zone.
Saiful Islam, media officer of KEPZ, said: “We had tried several times in the morning to enter the EPZ but failed.”
However, factories inside the EPZ were operating normally, an official said, asking not to be named.
The agitated people under the banner of Anwara-Karnaphuli Janasartho Sangrakkhan Sangram Parishad, a grouping that claims to “safeguard the interests of the local people”, organised the rally at Gate No. 1 of the KEPZ.
During the rally, they threatened to block all the three entry points of the KEPZ until their demands, including the removal of KEPZ managing director, are met.
Since February 21, the demonstrators had mainly gathered around the first gate. But yesterday, they occupied the second gate as well as the river route leading to the economic zone.
The problem began on February 21 after some 200 people stormed into the premises of KEPZ, uprooted some of its boundary pillars and erected new ones to take control of 5.95 acres of land.
Sources in the area said, in a bid to grab the KEPZ land, the influential quarters instigated local people by spreading rumours that the KEPZ authorities were grabbing a graveyard and preventing local people to bury the dead -- charges the EPZ authorities categorically deny.
A group of businessmen, politicians and local public representatives are playing a role behind the unrest in KEPZ, sources said.
The demonstrators particularly singled out the MD of KEPZ.
Contacted, Tauhidul Haque Chowdhury, chairman of Anwara Upazila Parishad, who led the protests, said they did not have any objection to any official of KEPZ, other than its MD.
“He [Nasir] doesn't allow the local people to bury the dead bodies in the graveyard. He also suspended at least 150 local employees of KEPZ on trifling issues in the last two years.”
“Our demonstration will continue until Nasir is removed,” he said.
Chowdhury said their demonstration has been peaceful and has not prevented anybody from entering the EPZ. “But we will by no means allow Nasir to get in.”
Nasir said the demonstrators are up against him because he did not allow any irregularity in the zone since he took over as its managing director in 2011.
He expressed frustration as the local administration and the police are not taking any step to keep the outsiders at bay.
“We have informed all relevant agencies about the situation. We are updating them about everyday development,” he said.
In the last two years, the local police station has not received any case or general diary from the EPZ authorities, said Nasir. “We have had to go to court for the cases.”
“It is really tough to work in this situation. We are looking to the administration for help.”
The inaction from the administration prompted Jahangir Saadat, president of KEPZ, to write a letter to the Prime Minister's Office last week, seeking immediate action.
Nasir blamed the trouble on two union council chairmen and the upazila vice chairman and their supporters. “They are all trying to grab the land in the name of graveyards.”
He said the workers who have been fired since he took office were suspended for breaking discipline. Many of them are day labourers, he said.
Mohiuddin Ahmed, officer-in-charge of Karnaphuli Police Station, said the demonstrators did not stop any official entering the KEPZ.
“They were demonstrating peacefully. I don't know why the KEPZ authorities declared the office closed for Monday.”
Protests halted the development work of the zone.
KEPZ was developed by Youngone Corporation, a South Korean company engaged in the manufacture and distribution of sportswear and shoes.
More than 70 foreigners, mostly Korean, reside in the KEPZ, which employs about 10,000 workers and staff members.