- - Tuesday, August 9, 2011

LONDON British Prime Minister David Cameron scrambled to London on Tuesday to deal with widespread violence that has rocked the British capital over the past three days and created a political crisis for his coalition government.

As rioting and looting spread throughout England and into Scotland, London police announced they will put 16,000 officers on the streets, tripling the number since violence erupted over the weekend, initially as race riots.

Authorities also announced that riot police are authorized to use plastic bullets against rioters.

Cutting short his family vacation in Italy, Mr. Cameron arrived in London early Tuesday morning for a meeting with the governments emergency-response committee.

The crisis is a major test for Mr. Cameron’s Conservative-led coalition government. Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, had warned during last year’s election campaign that Conservative budget cuts could provoke rioting.

London Mayor Boris Johnson also returned early from his vacation in the United States, as did Home Secretary Theresa May. Mr. Cameron recalled Parliament from summer recess for an emergency debate on Thursday.

Responding to criticism that there were too few police on the streets to deal with three nights of looting that have shaken the capital, Mr. Cameron told reporters that Scotland Yard is increasing the number to 16,000.

“All leave within the Metropolitan Police has been canceled. There will be aid coming from police forces up and down the country, and we will do everything necessary to strengthen and assist those police forces that are meeting this disorder,” he said.

He described the scenes of violence as “sickening” and said the government “will do everything necessary to restore order to Britain’s streets and to make them safe for the law-abiding.”

He authorized police to use nonlethal plastic bullets if necessary. The BBC reported that police have never used plastic bullets to control riots on the British mainland.

Police have arrested 560 people and charged 100 with criminal actions. More than half of those arrested are under the age of 20, police said. Forty-four police officers have been injured in the violence.

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 mixed-race resident turned violent.

Mark Duggan, a father of four, was fatally shot as police tried to arrest him. An initial report into the shooting by the Independent Police Complaints Commission released Tuesday said there was no evidence that Mr. Duggan had fired at police. However, a loaded handgun wrapped in a sock was recovered from the scene.

Violence spread on Sunday and Monday to other areas of the city in what police called “copy-cat criminality.”

Later, disturbances broke out in Englands second-largest city Birmingham, as well as smaller cities from the north to the southwest. Unrest also spread to Glasgow, Scotland.

Youths used text messages, instant messaging on BlackBerry phones and social-media platforms such as Twitter to coordinate attacks and stay ahead of the police.

The rioters appeared to have little unifying cause, though some claimed to oppose sharp government budget cuts, which will slash welfare payments and lay off tens of thousands of government workers through 2015.

However, many rioters were attracted simply by the opportunity to cause violence.

“Come join the fun!” shouted one youth in the east London suburb of Hackney, where shops were attacked and cars torched.

In an online video of looting of Debenhams department store in Clapham Junction, a youth was heard to shout: “Let’s go and get some watches.”

Rioters were left virtually unchallenged in several neighborhoods and were able to plunder stores and invade homes.

A caller to BBC Radio 4s “Today” program Tuesday described how she woke in the middle of the night to find burglars in her house.

She called the police, who told her such break-ins were happening everywhere. She said she could smell smoke on the intruders’ clothes, which she thought could have been from one of the buildings set afire by looters.

A number of town centers across the city went into lockdown Tuesday afternoon.

Employees were sent home early, children evacuated from playgrounds, and shop owners and even family doctors clinics pulled down their shutters in preparation for another night of violence. Police sirens could be heard all over the city, and helicopters hovered above.

The first fatality of the violence was reported yesterday after a man who was shot in his car in the London suburb of Croydon died of his injuries.

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