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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Hundreds arrested as London riots spread

The violence and arson attacks that have rattled north London since the weekend have now moved across all parts of the capital and are spreading on a smaller scale to other British cities, the first time the recent unrest has flared outside the U.K.'s capital.

The wave of rioting now entering its third day was sparked by the shooting death of 29-year-old Mark Duggan in the Tottenham section of North London on Thursday. Angry protesters demonstrated against the fatal shooting in the multi-ethnic neighborhood on Saturday, and the march soon degenerated into chaos.

After spreading across London Monday, violence soon ignited in the British cities of Birmingham, Bristol and Liverpool.

As buildings, vehicles and garbage dumps are being set ablaze, many sections of London have descended into chaos -- an unsettling sight less than a year before the 2012 Olympics take over the capital.

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron has cut his summer vacation in Italy short in order to chair a meeting of the government's emergency committee early Tuesday.

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, and a 26-year-old man is in a serious condition in the hospital after being shot in Croydon Monday.

The violence started on Saturday night in Tottenham in north London following protests over the fatal shooting of a 29-year-old black man, Mark Duggan, by police.

Tottenham is an impoverished area with an ethnically diverse population, a large black community and a history of unrest. Some residents resent police behaviour, including the use of stop and search powers, which they say are primarily targeted at black youths.

In Peckham, flames leapt into the air from a torched building, while rubble was strewn across the street. People walked in and out of shops looting.

Dozens of riot police were deployed on the streets of Hackney after police cars were damaged, buses attacked and shops looted.

In Enfield, firefighters were tackling a blaze at a Sony warehouse on Tuesday.

In Notting Hill in west London, rampagers forced their way into an exclusive restaurant, The Ledbury, before stealing diners' phones, plates off the tables and attempting to take the till.

But in a sign that the unrest had spread beyond the capital, attackers smashed shops and looted property in the central England city of Birmingham.

West Midlands Police confirmed they had made 87 arrests as youths ran amok in Birmingham centre overnight, smashing shop windows and looting merchandise. The force also said that a police station was on fire.

Liverpool police said a small number of vehicles were set on fire and reported some criminal damage. They said officers were responding to a number of isolated outbreaks of disorder," including vehicles set ablaze and buildings attacked in the city's southern neighbourhoods.

Police reported "copy-cat violence" in Bristol in the southwest and urged people to avoid the city centre after 150 rioters went on the rampage in "volatile scenes''.

Al Jazeera correspondent Barnaby Philips, reporting from Tottenham, said there was anguish and dismay about what had happened over the weekend.

People realise that jobs, property and investments have been damaged for years to come, and they are very distraught about it. Thankfully Tottenham is calm as of now."

Crisis meeting

Meanwhile, the prime minister's office said Cameron, who has faced media criticism for being away on holiday during the riots, would cut short his trip and return to London to chair a crisis meeting on the unrest.

"The violence we've seen, the looting we've seen, the thuggery we've seen, this is sheer criminality ... these people will be brought to justice, they will be made to face the consequences of their actions," said Theresa May, the interior minister, who also cut short her holiday because of the riots.

"It was needless, opportunistic theft and violence, nothing more, nothing less. It is completely unacceptable," said Nick Clegg, Britain's deputy prime minister, during a visit to Tottenham.

Scotland Yard commander Christine Jones said Monday night's events were "simply inexcusable". At least 35 police officers were injured in the unrest at the weekend. An 11-year-old boy was among those arrested.

Tim Godwin, the acting Metropolitan Police Commissioner, earlier urged parents to "start contacting their children" to find out where they were before slamming "spectators getting in the way of the police operations."

Violent skirmishes have taken place between police and rioters. Al Jazeera's Charlie Angela reports from Hackney.

As police struggled to contain the spiralling disorder, they ordered London football clubs to call off matches.

The London police force has been criticised for its handling of recent large protests against the austerity measures, and its chief and the top counter-terrorism officer recently quit over revelations in the News Corp phone-hacking scandal.

While Britain's politicians were quick to blame petty criminals for the violence, neighbourhood residents said anger at high unemployment and cuts in public services, coupled with resentment of the police, had played a significant role.

"Tottenham is a deprived area. Unemployment is very, very high ... they are frustrated," Uzodinma Wigwe, 49, who was made redundant from his job as a cleaner recently, said.

The riots come at a time of deepening gloom in Britain as the pain from economic stagnation is exacerbated by deep public spending cuts and tax rises aimed at eliminating a budget deficit that peaked at more than 10 per cent of GDP.

Very few details of Duggan's death on Thursday have been released. Police said initially an officer was briefly hospitalised after the shooting and media reports said a bullet had been found lodged in the officer's radio.

Although a gun was recovered from the scene, The Guardian newspaper reported that the bullet in the radio was police-issue, throwing doubt on speculation that Duggan had fired at an officer.

Britain's police watchdog is investigating the incident and has not commented on the report.

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