LONDON, (Reuters) – Violence flared in English cities and towns yesterday night but London, where thousands of extra police had been deployed, was largely peaceful after three turbulent nights in which youths rampaged across the capital virtually unchecked.
Groups of youths in hooded tops fought running battles with police in Manchester in northwest England, smashing windows and looting shops. A clothes shop was set alight.
In Salford, greater Manchester, rioters threw bricks at police and set fire to buildings. A BBC cameraman was attacked. Television pictures showed flames leaping from shops and cars, and plumes of thick black smoke billowing across roads.
“Over the past few hours, Greater Manchester Police has been faced with extraordinary levels of violence from groups of criminals intent on committing widespread disorder,” Assistant Chief Constable Gary Shewan said.
“These people have nothing to protest against – there is no sense of injustice or any spark that has led to this. It is, pure and simple, acts of criminal behaviour which are the worst I have seen on this scale.” Further south in West Bromwich and Wolverhampton, cars were burned and stores raided. A police station was firebombed by 30 to 40 males in Nottingham. No one was injured, police said.
In Liverpool’s Toxteth district, rioters set fire to two fire engines and a fire officer’s car, police said. Earlier, some 200 youths throwing missiles wrecked and looted shops, causing ‘disorder and damage’, police said.
Police said they had arrested 47 people in Manchester and Salford, and 37 in Toxteth. There were reports of minor disturbances in Birmingham and Leicester, in the Midlands, Milton Keynes north of London, and Gloucester in the southwest.
In London, commuters hurried home early, shops shut and many shopkeepers boarded their windows, preparing nervously for more of the violence that had erupted in neighbourhoods across London and spread to other cities.
Gangs have ransacked stores, carting off clothes, shoes and electronic goods, torched cars, shops and homes — causing tens of millions of pounds of damage — and taunted the police.
But the streets of London were quiet on Tuesday.
Community leaders said the violence in London, the worst for decades in the huge, multi-ethnic capital, was rooted in growing disparities in wealth and opportunity, but many rejected the idea that anything but greed motivated rioters.
Prime Minister David Cameron, who cut short a family holiday in Tuscany to deal with the crisis, told reporters: “This is criminality pure and simple and it has to be confronted and defeated.”
“People should be in no doubt that we will do everything necessary to restore order to Britain’s streets,” he said after a meeting of the government’s crisis committee, COBRA.
Another such meeting was set for Wednesday. Cameron also recalled parliament from its summer recess, a rare move.
London police said 16,000 police officers were on the streets on Tuesday night, compared with 6,000 on Monday night. London has a population of 7.8 million.
The unrest poses a new challenge to Cameron as Britain’s economy struggles to grow while his government slashes public spending and raises taxes to cut a yawning budget deficit — moves that some commentators say have aggravated the plight of young people in inner cities.
It also shows the world an ugly side of London less than a year before it hosts the 2012 Olympic Games, an event that officials hope will serve as a showcase for the city in the way that April’s royal wedding did.