Police arrest more than 200 as London riots continue

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LONDON — Violence and looting spread across some of London’s most impoverished neighborhoods on Monday, with youths setting fire to shops and vehicles, during a third day of rioting in the city that will host next summer’s Olympic Games.

Skirmishes broke out between police and groups of youths across Britain’s capital, and also spread to the nation’s central city of Birmingham — where police said dozens of people were involved in damaging shops across the city center.

In the Hackney area of east London and districts in the city’s south, vehicles and buildings were set ablaze as authorities struggled to halt groups of rampaging young people.

Hundreds of youths attacked shops and set fire to cars in Hackney, while police in riot gear were pelted with fireworks, bottles and lumps of wood.

Thick smoke billowed from a high street in the Peckham district of south London, where a building was set ablaze along with a bus — which was not carrying passengers. In nearby Lewisham, lines of cars were torched.

Home Secretary Theresa May, the Cabinet minister responsible for policing, and London’s Mayor Boris Johnson cut short vacations in an attempt to deal with the crisis — while police confirmed they had made more than 200 arrests.

Despite the arrests and the deployment of hundreds of reinforcements, police appeared unable to contain the spread of the rioting, which began Saturday night amid community anger over a fatal police shooting. Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old father of four, was gunned down in disputed circumstances Thursday in the Tottenham area of north London.

Though the initial unrest was sparked by Duggan’s shooting, some 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 Games.

In the hardest-hit area, Tottenham, many residents agreed that the looting was the work of greedy youths, aided by instant communication through SMS texts and instant messaging.

“It’s nothing to do with the man who was shot, is it?” said 37-year-old Marcia Simmons, who has lived in the diverse and gritty north London neighborhood all her life. “A lot of youths … heard there was a protest and joined in. Others used it as an opportunity to kit themselves out, didn’t they, with shoes and T-shirts and everything.”

Tottenham’s main shopping street remained cordoned off Monday, with steam still rising from burned-out buildings, two days after violence broke out

A peaceful demonstration outside the Tottenham police station turned ugly as several hundred people threw bottles filled with gasoline at police lines and confronted officers with baseball bats and bars on Saturday night. Two police cars and a double-decker bus were set alight, stores were looted and several buildings along Tottenham’s main street — five miles (eight kilometers) from the site of the 2012 Olympics — were reduced to smoldering shells.

“I saw cars on fire, and the neighbors came out saying there’s a full blown riot,” Simmons said. “We saw the bus set alight, and we saw it blow up. All our homes were full of smoke.”

Police condemned the “copycat criminal” violence that began Saturday night and hit areas including the leafy suburb of Enfield, a few miles (kilometers) further north; Walthamstow in northeast London, where police said 30 youths vandalized and looted shops; and the busy shopping and tourist district at Oxford Circus, where about 50 people damaged property.

May said on Monday that 215 people had been arrested and 27 charged so far, including an 11-year-old boy accused of burglary. About 100 of those arrested were 21 or younger and 35 police officers had been injured in the violence.

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