Britain battles ‘worst violence in memory’

A policeman walks past the remains of a furniture store Tuesday in Croydon, south of London. Photo: AFP

The British government has tripled the amount of police on the streets of London in a desperate attempt to quell growing riots that saw their first fatality Tuesday, against the backdrop of record high unemployment and social discontent.

“Sickening” scenes of violence, the worst Britain has seen in decades, occurred less than a year before the London Olympic Games.

Looting and vandalism that convulsed poorer sections of London over the weekend boiled over into at least eight new districts, and spread to other cities including Birmingham, Liverpool, Nottingham and Bristol.

“It’s disgusting,” Amanda Magar, a resident of the Tottenham area, told the Global Times, adding that the peaceful protest was hijacked by a violent minority.

Outraged at the destruction and looting, Magar said, “There are no excuses for these crimes. The police could have done more to prevent the riots from spreading.”

Riots erupted Saturday night with about 200 people raining missiles and bottles down on riot officers near Tottenham police station.

The unrest degenerated after a protest by community members demanding justice for the death of Mark Duggan, 29, shot dead Thursday.

Parliament will reconvene from its summer recess on Thursday with a total of 16,000 police officers to be deployed in London by today, Prime Minister David Cameron said after the meeting of the government emergency committee Cobra Tuesday.

Cameron, along with many other government officials, cut his vacation short after the unrest spilled into its third night, during which a man died.

The riots claimed their first casualty Tuesday as a 26-year-old man was shot dead in a car in Croydon, police told Reuters.
Some 200 people were arrested Monday night, bringing the total number of those detained to over 450, the Metropolitan Police said in a statement Tuesday.

“Last night was the worst the Metropolitan Police Service has seen in current memory for unacceptable levels of widespread looting, fires and disorder,” the police said Tuesday, adding that all police cells in London were full, and prisoners were being taken to surrounding forces outside the capital.

The violence, bolstered by “copycat criminal activity,” had also injured 44 officers and 14 civilians as of Tuesday, the police said, adding that CCTV images have been used to hunt the criminals down.

A select committee of MPs has been set up to investigate the riots amid criticisms that a “toxic mix” of poor policing and social deprivation was to blame for the spread of anarchy.

Research in Motion was asked to cooperate with police as its popular BlackBerry Messenger service, among other social media outlets, was instrumental in organizing the London riots.

The Met also warned Monday that those “inciting violence” on social networks would not go unpunished and that officers were combing these websites for indications of planned rioting and looting.

Tony Travers, a local government expert at the London School of Economics, told the Global Times that the unexpected riots, coupled with the help of social media and the absence of several senior politicians, compounded the difficulty of managing the dangerous situation. 

Tian Dewen, a scholar at the Institute of European Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Tuesday that riots in London are embarrassing for Europe, given its long track record of blaming unrest around the world on political problems and a lack of human rights.

“Ironically, new media exacerbated riots in Britain as it did in the Middle East months ago,” Tian said. “The Western style of democracy is by no means immune to social unrest.”

The riots reflect a prevailing anti-social sentiment among young people in Europe due to their disappointment in government, Tian said, adding that Britain suffered a record high of 20.5 percent unemployment among young people in the fourth quarter of 2010.

The spreading unrest could also be a black spot on Cameron’s record a mere year ahead of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London.

Gary Li, an intelligence analyst at London-based Exclusive Analysis, said that the police will likely be forced to recalibrate their emergency planning for the London 2012 Olympic Games.

“The type and volume of rioting seen over recent days, if it occurred during the Olympics, would place a severe strain on resources and capabilities that will already be stretched by unprecedented visitor numbers, the terrorism threat and the risk of disruptive unrest by single-issue campaigners,” Li said.

Liu Linlin and agencies contributed to this story

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