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Riots spread from London on third day

- The Washington Times - Monday, August 8, 2011

LONDON — Looting and rioting continued in London on Monday as the police called perpetrators "criminals," while others blamed the poverty and a mistrust of police in the city's poorer neighborhoods for the violence that erupted over the weekend.

More than 200 people have been arrested, 35 police officers injured and dozens left homeless during the three days of rioting. Police cars and residential buildings were set on fire and shop windows smashed as unrest spread from the north of the city Saturday night to the south and eastern districts the next day.

In the nation's central city of Birmingham, dozens of people attacked stores in a main retail district, spreading the chaos beyond London for the first time since violence broke out.

As authorities struggled with the unrest, Prime Minister David Cameron said he will cut short his summer vacation and convene a meeting of the government's crisis committee Tuesday.

Riots first broke out in the north London borough of Tottenham on Saturday after a peaceful protest against the fatal shooting by police of a 29-year-old local resident turned violent.

Mark Duggan, a father of four, had been traveling in a taxi when he was fatally shot in disputed circumstances. A police officer was also shot in the incident, which happened in a "pre-planned" event under Operation Trident, which investigates gun crime in London's African and Caribbean communities.

However, others blamed unemployment, insensitive policing and opportunistic looting for the worst violence the city has seen in years. Police and politicians insisted the disorder was the work of a criminal minority and not a sign of social tensions or security lapses ahead of the 2012 Olympic Games.

On Sunday, the violence spread farther north to Enfield and to Brixton in the south of the city. By Monday, it had reached Walthamstow and Hackney in the east. By Monday night, the violence spread to the northern city of Liverpool.

London's main shopping area, Oxford Street, also saw some disturbances. Sky News reported that a bus had been set on fire in Peckham, in south London.

One Londoner, John Nicholson, described how a fight that broke out at a Jamaican festival in Brixton on Sunday turned into a riot.

"The police came, broke it up and calmed things down. They clearly didn't want any trouble," he said.

"Then five or six hooded children, one looked about 12, started running, then everyone started throwing bottles. It was clearly not about politics. They were just there to cause some drama. Then suddenly everyone started running. People were getting trampled. They were screaming. It was a mob mentality."

One Brixton resident described the area as "looking like a war zone" Monday morning.

"Every shop window was smashed in. All the roads closed, loads of police everywhere," Jessie Hill said.

Police described the violence across London since Saturday night as "copycat criminality." They said more police will be put on the streets to restore order.

"This has changed from a local issue into organized criminality," police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Steve Kavanagh said Monday as he announced a "momentous investigation" to track down the perpetrators.

The perpetrators were relatively small groups of youths, their heads and faces covered, who used social media such as Twitter, cellphone text messages and BlackBerry instant messaging to organize and keep a step ahead of police.

One BlackBerry message Sunday reportedly urged young people from across London to converge on Oxford Circus for "pure terror and havoc & free stuff."

Commissioner Kavanagh told reporters his officers would "absolutely" consider arresting tweeters for incitement if they had urged or orchestrated violence.

But most Twitter users appeared critical of the riots or, at least, embarrassed by events.

One wrote: "The Youth of the Middle East rise up for basic freedoms. The Youth of London rise up for a HD ready 42" Plasma TV."

c Louise Osborne in London and Shaun Waterman in Washington contributed to this report.

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