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Rioting, looting spread in London; 225 arrested

Turmoil ignites in 3 other cities

Police in riot gear blocked a road late yesterday near a burning car in the London neighborhood of Hackney, where bands of hooded youths hurled objects at police. Police in riot gear blocked a road late yesterday near a burning car in the London neighborhood of Hackney, where bands of hooded youths hurled objects at police. (Reuters/ Luke Macgregor)
By Ravi Somaiya and John F. Burns
New York Times / August 9, 2011

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LONDON - The rioting and looting that convulsed poorer parts of London over the weekend spread to the eastern neighborhood of Hackney yesterday evening, as hundreds of hooded youths confronted squads of riot police officers on the main street, smashing store windows, and attacking police cars and double-decker buses.

The new outbreak came as the police vastly increased the number of riot-control officers deployed in London to deal with the worst unrest the city has seen in decades.

The disturbances also reached outside London for the first time, spreading to the central city of Birmingham, where dozens of people attacked shops in a retail district; the western city of Bristol, where the Associated Press said 150 rioters went on a rampage in the city center; and to Liverpool, where police said vehicles were set ablaze and buildings vandalized in the city’s southern neighborhoods.

Buildings, vehicles, and trash dumps were set on fire, stores burglarized, and police officers pelted with bottles and fireworks in London yesterday, as groups of young people rampaged through neighborhoods across the capital.

Fire crews battled to control a fire that swept through a 100-year-old furniture store in Croydon, in south London, and forced nearby homes to be evacuated.

Police said that they had arrested more than 225 people and that about 35 officers had been injured since the rioting began Saturday. About half the people arrested are age 21 or younger, they said.

The violence caught many British leaders abroad on vacation, including Prime Minister David Cameron, who cut short a vacation to Italy and was returning to London to hold an emergency Cabinet meeting. Home Secretary Theresa May also flew home from a holiday to help manage the mayhem, which recalled earlier spasms of violence rooted in deep social problems.

The latest rioting may have been amplified by the use of social media, and many looked for causes in the painful austerity cuts in Britain’s national budget that have shriveled programs for unemployed urban youth.

But police and some neighborhood activists said many of the rioters and looters appeared to be thrill seekers and thugs.

Erika Lopez, a spokeswoman for an advocacy organization who has been monitoring the violence, called the rioters “groups of people who are just taking advantage of the situation to create a horrid atmosphere in London.’’ Her group, Haringey Young People Empowered, is based in the Haringey area of north London, which has so far remained calm.

Steve Kavanagh, deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said: “These people don’t represent communities. They are criminals out to exploit an opportunity.’’

Kavanagh said May had conferred with top London police officials and had stressed the need for dispatching large numbers of officers quickly into areas of trouble. He said the number of riot officers deployed in London since Saturday had been quadrupled but did not specify how many, although they are in the thousands.

The violence started Saturday when a small antipolice demonstration in Tottenham over the fatal police shooting of a local man, Mark Duggan, spiraled into looting and violence.

Then, across London, skirmishes broke out again Sunday between groups of young people and large numbers of riot police officers drawn from forces around the city. Sunday night’s clashes, which the police called “copycat violence,’’ seemed less serious but more widespread.

Tottenham was quiet yesterday. But the police were alerted to possible trouble in Hackney by late afternoon and sent a large number of riot police there. The violence apparently began after they arrested someone, and it lasted at least an hour.

Grabbing anything that resembled a weapon, bands of hooded youths even broke into a tree surgeon’s truck, pilfering a pickaxe and staves of wood to smash store windows.

They also grabbed shopping carts and steel chairs to hurl at the police, who responded by charging them with truncheons and blocking off side streets to prevent the rioters from running away.

A BBC news helicopter showed footage from overhead, including a police officer violently striking one hooded protester.

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