Cameron rushes back to UK as London burns

2011-08-09 00:44

London - Riots spread to new areas of London on Monday while looting also erupted in the city of Birmingham as Britain's worst unrest in decades escalated in a third night of violence.

Prime Minister David Cameron cut short his holiday to fly home to tackle the violence, which politicians and police have blamed on criminal thugs and which come amid deep economic gloom in Britain.

In Hackney, a multi-ethnic area in east London close to the site of next year's Olympic Games, hooded youths set fire to rubbish bins and pushed them down a street towards police, while hurling bottles and bricks.

Many laughed as they ran back when police charged them. Others shouted into their cellphones telling their friends to join in.

The disturbances started late on Saturday in London's northern Tottenham district when a peaceful protest over the police's shooting of a suspect turned violent.

On Monday, the violence had spread to the south of the city, including the areas of Peckham, Croydon and Lewisham.

Attackers also smashed shops and looted property in the central England city of Birmingham, police said, in the first sign of the riots spreading beyond the capital.

In Hackney, with the street thick with smoke, looters smashed their way into a local shop, stealing whisky and beer. One had even grabbed a packet of cornflakes. Another man ran away laughing while carrying four bottles of whisky.

"I am from South Africa and it reminds me of the riots there, except the police here are not so rough," said one middle-aged local resident, who declined to give his name.

"But the kids don't have any respect for the police or for property. It's sad for the people who live round here."

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

Cameron's office said he would cut short his holiday in Italy to chair an emergency crisis meeting, amid growing calls from the public for officials to take control of the crisis.

Police had arrested 215 people, according to Home Secretary Theresa May.

"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," she said.


But despite a heavy police presence, they appeared unable to contain the violence as looters co-ordinated through cellphones and Twitter to try to keep one step ahead of them.

In Hackney, youths in brown hoods posed for pictures in front of a burning car on a street corner. Others swarmed around a skip full of bricks and gathered them up.

"I don't know why they are doing this," said a middle-aged woman who lived nearby. "It's senseless ... they are just cacking on their own doorstep."

The BBC said the Hackney clashes broke out after police stopped and searched a man.

Government officials branded rioters as opportunistic criminals and said the violence would not affect preparations for next summer's Olympic Games.

Police deputy assistant commissioner Steve Kavanagh said the force was putting more officers on the streets in Hackney and other areas on Monday night.

"Let me make it clear that people who are using current events as an excuse or cover to break the law, steal, attack police officers and cause fear to Londoners will not be tolerated by the vast majority of Londoners and us," he said.


A small group of people said they had barricaded themselves inside the 110-year-old Hackney Empire theatre to escape the violence.

"We are stuck inside," said one person, who did not give her name, in a telephone conversation with Reuters.

"We don't want to be near the windows. They seem to be targeting shops at the moment. It's very scary."

"We are in the back of the building, staying away from the front. We have barricaded the doors and put chains on the doors."

Youths appeared to have used a free message service on Blackberry cellphones to co-ordinate attacks on shops and police.

Research In Motion, the Canadian manufacturer of Blackberry smartphones, said it would work with British authorities, but gave no details on what information, if any, it would give the police.

"We feel for those impacted by this weekend's riots in London. We have engaged with the authorities to assist in any way we can," RIM spokesperson Patrick Spence said in a statement.

Some have branded the disturbances as a cry for help from impoverished areas reeling from the government's harsh austerity cuts to tackle a big budget deficit, with youth services and other facilities cut back sharply.

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

Officials said there was no excuse.

"It was needless, opportunistic theft and violence, nothing more, nothing less. It is completely unacceptable," said Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

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