London: City Streets Turn Into ‘War Zones’ As Riots Spread To Birmingham, Bristol and Liverpool: UPDATED

9 Aug

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British police officers charge rioters, during riots in Hackney, east London, Monday Aug. 8, 2011. Youths set fire to shops and vehicles in a host of areas of London _ which will host next summer's Olympic Games _ and clashed with police in the nation's central city of Birmingham, as authorities struggled to halt groups of rampaging young people. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

LONDON (AP) — A wave of violence and looting raged across London and spread to three other major British cities on Tuesday, as authorities struggled to contain the country’s worst unrest since race riots set the capital ablaze in the 1980s.

In London, groups of young people rampaged for a third straight night, setting buildings, vehicles and garbage dumps alight, looting stores and pelting police officers with bottles and fireworks. The spreading disorder was an unwelcome warning of the possibility of violence for leaders organizing the 2012 Summer Olympics in less than a year.

Police called in hundreds of reinforcements — and made a rare decision to deploy armored vehicles in some of the worst-hit districts — but still struggled to keep pace with the chaos unfolding at flashpoints across London, in the central city of Birmingham, the western city of Bristol and the northwestern city of Liverpool.

Authorities acknowledged that major new bouts of violence had badly stretching their resources.

“The violence we have seen is simply inexcusable. Ordinary people have had their lives turned upside down by this mindless thuggery,” police commander Christine Jones said.

The riots appeared to have little unifying cause — though some involved claimed to oppose sharp government spending cuts, which will slash welfare payments and cut tens of thousands of public sector jobs through 2015.

Others appeared attracted simply by the opportunity for violence. “Come join the fun,” shouted one youth, racing along a street in the east London suburb of Hackney, where shops were attacked and cars torched.

A car is seen on fire in Hackney, east London, as rioters were rampaging across London, Monday, Aug. 8, 2011. Violence and looting spread across some of London's most impoverished neighborhoods on Monday, with youths setting fire to shops and vehicles, during a third day of rioting in the city that will host next summer's Olympic Games. (AP Photo/PA, Lewis Whyld) UNITED KINGDOM OUT, NO SALES, NO ARCHIVE

The crisis will be a major test of Prime Minister David Cameron‘s coalition government, which includes members who had long suspected its program of harsh budget restraints could provoke popular dissent. He reversed an earlier decision and cut short his summer vacation in Italy, rushing home for a meeting of the national crisis committee on Tuesday morning.

Cameron was expected to seek to toughen the response in meetings with ministers and police chiefs.

Rioters were left virtually unchallenged in several neighborhoods and able to plunder from stores at will or attempt to invade homes. Restaurants and stores fearful of looting closed early across London.

Disorder flared throughout the night, from gritty suburbs along the capital’s fringes to central London’s famously posh Notting Hill neighborhood. London’s Ambulance Service said it had treated 16 patients, of whom 15 were hospitalized. Police said 334 people had been arrested and 69 people charged with offenses.

Three people were arrested on suspicion of the attempted murder of a police officer left hospitalized after he was struck by a car in north London in the early hours of Tuesday.

After dawn, police said, the unrest appeared to calm, either quelled by police or after rioters drifted away.

Violence first broke out late Saturday in the low-income, multiethnic district of Tottenham in north London, where outraged protesters demonstrated against the fatal police shooting of Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old father of four who was gunned down in disputed circumstances Thursday.

A brief inquest hearing into Duggan’s death will take Tuesday, though it will likely be several months before a full hearing is convened.

Duggan’s death stirred old animosities and racial tensions similar to those that prompted massive riots in the 1980s, despite efforts by London police to build better relations with the city’s ethnic communities after high-profile cases of racism in recent decades.

But, as the unrest spread, some pointed to rising social tensions in Britain as the government slashes 80 billion pounds ($130 billion) from public spending by 2015 to reduce the huge deficit, swollen after the country spent billions bailing out its foundering banks.

In the south London district of Croydon, police said a 26-year-old man was shot and seriously injured Monday but were unable to say immediately whether the incident was linked to rioting there.

A massive blaze ravaged a 100-year-old family run furniture store in Croydon and sent thick plumes of smoke into the air, forcing nearby homes to be evacuated. In the Clapham Junction area of south London, a mob stole masks from a party store to disguise their identities and then set the building on fire.

Sony Corp. said a major blaze had broken out at its distribution center near Enfield, north London, damaging stocks of DVDs and other products. So many fires were being fought in the capital that Thames Water, which supplies most of London, warned that some of its customers could see their water pressure drop.

Dozens of people attacked shops in Birmingham’s main retail district, and clashed with police in Liverpool and Bristol.

In London’s Hackney, hundreds of youths left a trail of burning trash and shattered glass. Looters ransacked a small convenience store, filling plastic shopping bags with alcohol, cigarettes, candy and toilet paper.

East London’s diversity was on display amid the charred hulks of cars and the smell of burning plastic. Some looters were young women with manicured nails and customized BlackBerry smart phones. Others wore dreadlocks and stained shirts or appeared to be homeless.

“This is the uprising of the working class. We’re redistributing the wealth,” said Bryn Phillips, a 28-year-old self-described anarchist, as young people emerged from the store with chocolate bars and ice cream cones.

Phillips claimed rioters were motivated by distrust of the police, and drew a link between the rage on London’s street and insurgent right-wing politics in the United States. “In America you have the tea party, in England you’ve got this,” he said.

Some residents called for police to deploy water cannons to disperse rioters, or call on the military for support. They questioned the strength of leadership within London’s police department — particularly after a wave of resignations prompted by the country’s phone-hacking scandal.

The small groups of youths used text messages, instant messaging on BlackBerry phones and social media platforms such as Twitter to coordinate their attacks and stay ahead of the police.

Once the preserve of businesspeople, BlackBerry handsets are popular with teenagers, thanks to their free, fast instant messaging system. Blackberry’s manufacturer, Research in Motion, said in a statement that it was assisting authorities in their investigation and “feel for those impacted by the riots in London.”

Police were also monitoring Twitter, and warned that those who posted messages inciting the violence could face arrest.

About 100 young people clashed with police in the Camden and Chalk Farm areas of north London, smashing their way into a bicycle store and mobile phone shop.

In the Peckham district of south London, where a building was set ablaze along with a bus — which was not carrying passengers — onlookers said the scene resembled a conflict zone. Cars were torched in nearby Lewisham, and in west London’s Ealing suburb the windows of each store along entire streets had been smashed.

“There’s been tension for a long time. The kids aren’t happy. They hate the police,” said Matthew Yeoland, a 43-year-old teacher watching the unrest in Peckham. “It’s like a war zone and the police weren’t doing anything. There were too many people and not enough police.”

Police said Duggan was shot dead last week when police from Operation Trident — the unit that investigates gun crime in the black community — stopped a cab he was riding in.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission, which is investigating the shooting, said a “non-police firearm” was recovered at the scene, and media reports said a bullet had been found in an officer’s radio. However, the Guardian newspaper reported that the bullet in the radio was police-issue, indicating Duggan may not have fired at the officer.

Duggan’s partner, Semone Wilson, insisted Monday that her fiance was not connected to gang violence and urged police to offer more information about his death. But she rejected suggestions that the escalating riots were linked to protests over his death. “It got out of hand. It’s not connected to this anymore. This is out of control,” she said.

The past year has seen mass protests against the tripling of student tuition fees and cuts to public sector pensions. In November, December and March, small groups broke away from large marches in London to loot. In the most notorious episode, rioters attacked a Rolls-Royce carrying Prince Charles and his wife Camilla to a charity concert.

However, the full impact of spending cuts has yet to be felt and the unemployment rate is stable — although it remains highest among youth, especially in areas like Tottenham, Hackney and Croydon.

Some people caught up in the unrest insisted that joblessness was not to blame. “It’s just an excuse for the young ones to come and rob shops,” said Brixton resident Marilyn Moseley, 49.

Police urged communities to help clear the streets of people, and called on families to contact their children and ensure that they were not involved in the chaos. An 11-year-old boy was charged with burglary by police, and at least 100 of those arrested were aged 21 or younger. About 35 police officers had been injured in the violence, police said.

Home Secretary Theresa May, the Cabinet minister responsible for policing, and London Mayor Boris Johnson also cut short summer vacations in an attempt to deal with the crisis.

Police in Birmingham, 120 miles (195 kilometers) north of London, confirmed that officers had arrested 35 people amid disorder across the city center, where shops were being vandalized. In Bristol, police urged residents to avoid the city center after 150 rioters went on the rampage.

Tottenham was the site of the 1985 Broadwater Farm riots, a series of clashes that led to the fatal stabbing of a police officer and the wounding of nearly 60 others — and underscored tensions between London police and the capital’s black community.

West Ham, a football team in east London, confirmed it had canceled a match planned for Tuesday as a precaution. However, the national Football Association insisted that a scheduled international friendly match between England and the Netherlands would go ahead at Wembley Stadium on Wednesday.

The International Olympic Committee insisted it had confidence in British authorities. “Security at the Olympic Games is a top priority for the IOC,” spokesman Mark Adams said.

___

Jill Lawless, Meera Selva, Stephen Wilson and Danica Kirka contributed to this report.

Play Video

Video: Rioters Run Amok As Unrest Spreads In England

Riots and looting that have destroyed homes and businesses have spread right across London and further afield to Birmingham, Bristol and Liverpool.

Police struggled to contain what has become the worst rioting in decades as crowds of youths smashed windows, emptied shops of their goods and set properties on fire. 

More than 330 people have been arrested in the capital since Saturday, including three overnight on suspicion of attempted murder after two police officers were hit by a car in Fulton Road, Brent.

David Cameron flew back to Britain to chair the Government’s emergency committee Cobra and meet police chiefs, having been on a family holiday to Tuscany.

Home Secretary Theresa May condemned “sheer criminality” as police and emergency services were overwhelmed by a third consecutive night of trouble.

The unrest started in broad daylight in parts of east London before spreading as darkness fell.

Scotland Yard was forced to use armoured police vehicles to push back more than 150 people in Clapham Junction , south London, as the disorder hit shops and businesses.

Sky News reporter Simon Newton later saw armoured vehicles being used in Ealing in west London.

The force said it would use the tactic elsewhere if needed.

Commander Christine Jones said events were “simply inexcusable”.

“Ordinary people have had their lives turned upside down by this mindless thuggery,” she said.

“The Met will ensure that those responsible will face the consequences of their actions and be arrested.”

Youths also took to the streets of Birmingham, Bristol and Liverpool throughout the night in what officials described as ‘copycat’ attacks.

West Midlands Police arrested about 100 people in Birmingham after youths rampaged in the city centre, near the landmark Bullring shopping arcade.

Cars were set alight in Liverpool, and police officers were pelted with makeshift weapons including golf clubs as they tried to contain the gangs.

In Bristol, residents were urged to avoid the city centre by Avon and Somerset Police after 150 rioters hit the streets.

London bore the brunt of the violence however, with more than 1,700 extra officers deployed to all corners of the capital.

The “opportunistic” attacks saw major fires set in Hackney and Peckham. A man in Croydon was also injured in a shooting.

A furniture shop in Croydon which had been in the same family for five generations , in a 100-year-old building, was completely destroyed after being torched.

A massive blaze at a Sony distribution centre near Enfield, north London, also sent plumes of thick smoke across the sky.

Scotland Yard said 334 people had been arrested, 69 charged and two cautioned across the capital, as police officers from 12 other forces were drafted in to help tackle the riots.

In Hackney, rioters, many wearing hoods and masks, were confronted by police lines spanning the streets, occasionally moving forward to push the groups back.

As the clashes erupted an officer could be seen lying on the ground after being struck on his shield by a missile.

Two other officers were left injured after coming under fire from objects including chairs and pieces of wood.

Scotland Yard said between 250 to 300 people had gathered on the Pembury Estate, setting alight cars and throwing petrol bombs.

Looting and outbreaks of violence was also recorded by officers in Newham, Lewisham and Bethnal Green, where more than 100 people looted a Tesco premises and two officers were injured.

South of the river in Peckham, teams of riot officers were seen charging at fleeing troublemakers after a major fire was started at a shop adjoining a Greggs bakery.

A nearby bus was also set on fire while TV footage showed a trail of bins and an abandoned vehicle ablaze in Lewisham.

A London Fire Brigade source told Sky News Online that crews were sent to various other stations to support other crews struggling to maintain sufficient numbers in each district.

Consecutive days of violence came after a peaceful protest in Tottenham on Saturday, which followed the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan , 29, on Thursday.

An inquest into Mr Duggan’s death is due to open this morning at High Barnet Coroner’s Court.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said it was awaiting “further forensic analysis” to gain a comprehensive account of the shots which led to his death.

The Guardian quoted a source as saying that initial tests suggested a bullet found lodged in a police radio after Mr Duggan’s death was police issue.

The IPCC will publish details of ballistic tests later today.

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