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East London’s diversity was on display amid the charred hulks of cars and the smell of burning plastic. Some looters were young women with manicured nails and customized BlackBerry smart phones. Others wore dreadlocks and stained shirts or appeared to be homeless.

“This is the uprising of the working class. We’re redistributing the wealth,” said Bryn Phillips, a 28-year-old self-described anarchist, as young people emerged from the store with chocolate bars and ice cream cones.

Phillips claimed rioters were motivated by distrust of the police, and drew a link between the rage on London’s street and insurgent right-wing politics in the United States. “In America you have the tea party, in England you’ve got this,” he said.

Some residents called for police to deploy water cannons to disperse rioters, or call on the military for support. They questioned the strength of leadership within London's police department — particularly after a wave of resignations prompted by the country’s phone-hacking scandal.

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.

About 100 young people clashed with police in the Camden and Chalk Farm areas of north London. In the Peckham district of south London, where a building was set ablaze along with a bus — which was not carrying passengers — onlookers said the scene resembled a conflict zone. Cars were torched in nearby Lewisham, and in west London’s Ealing suburb the windows of each store along entire streets had been smashed.

“There’s been tension for a long time. The kids aren’t happy. They hate the police,” said Matthew Yeoland, a 43-year-old teacher watching the unrest in Peckham. “It’s like a war zone and the police weren’t doing anything.”

Police said Duggan was shot dead last week when police from Operation Trident — the unit that investigates gun crime in the black community — stopped a cab he was riding in.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission, which is investigating the shooting, said a “non-police firearm” was recovered at the scene. But the Guardian newspaper reported that a bullet in the officer’s radio was police-issue, indicating Duggan may not have fired at the officer.

Duggan’s partner, Semone Wilson, insisted Monday that her fiance was not connected to gang violence and urged police to offer more information about his death. But she rejected suggestions that the riots were linked to protests over his death.

“It got out of hand. It’s not connected to this anymore. This is out of control,” she said.

The past year has seen mass protests against the tripling of student tuition fees and cuts to public sector pensions. In November, December and March, small groups broke away from large marches in London to loot. In the most notorious episode, rioters attacked a Rolls-Royce carrying Prince Charles and his wife Camilla to a charity concert.

However, the full impact of spending cuts has yet to be felt and the unemployment rate is stable — although it remains highest among youth, especially in areas like Tottenham, Hackney and Croydon.

Some residents insisted that joblessness was not to blame. “It’s just an excuse for the young ones to come and rob shops,” said Brixton resident Marilyn Moseley, 49.

David Stringer, Raphael Satter, Sheila Norman-Culp, Meera Selva and Stephen Wilson contributed to this report.