Karachi - Pakistani police have moved to drop murder charges against the owners of a garment factory where 289 workers were killed in a fire last year, the mens' lawyer said on Monday.

The owners of the Ali Enterprises factory in Karachi, which made ready-to-wear garments for Western stores, were charged in the wake of last September's blaze, which was one of the worst industrial accidents in Pakistan's history.

But police have now filed a new investigation report charging Shahid Bhaila and Arshad Bhaila with negligence but not murder, lawyer Aamir Raza Naqvi said. Police confirmed the move.

A court is expected rule on whether to accept the new charges on Saturday.

Naqvi said that in a separate application, the Sindh provincial high court released the owners on bail.

“The court ordered the owners to deposit one million rupees ($10 000) each and the three employees to deposit 200 000 rupees each to get bail,” he said.

Several labour rights organisations last month challenged an order attributed to Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf asking the police to drop murder charges against the owners.

A division bench of the Sindh high court summoned a top aide to the prime minister to appear before the court on February 14. - AFP