British PM to address lawmakers as riots ease

AFP , Thursday 11 Aug 2011

British Prime Minister David Cameron will address the parliament on the emergency session held to discuss the dramatic riots in the country

British Prime Minister David Cameron (Reuters)

British Prime Minister David Cameron will address an emergency session of parliament Thursday on the worst riots in a generation after a major police operation and heavy rain stopped a fifth night of violence.

Bolstered police forces in London and other English cities maintained calm overnight, and courts stayed open through the night to deal with more than 1,200 people who have been arrested for looting and rioting.

Police rounded up a group of about 150 men in the south London district of Eltham, while an uneasy peace prevailed in Birmingham where three Asian men were hit and killed by a car while defending their community on Tuesday.

Cameron, who cut short his holiday to deal with the crisis, was expected to use his statement in parliament to spell out further plans to deal with the disorder and compensate businesses damaged in the riots.

Lawmakers will also hold a debate on the unrest.

The Conservative premier took a tough new line on Wednesday, saying a "fightback" was under way and warning rioters that he had authorised police to use water cannon with 24 hours notice for the first time on mainland Britain.

The government again deployed 16,000 police on London's streets while there were thousands more in other major cities, including Manchester and Birmingham which were among the worst hit by four nights of rioting.

In Birmingham the father of one of the three Muslim Asian men who died in a hit-and-run incident emerged as a heroic figure for his impassioned calls for peace despite the spectre of inter-racial tensions.

Tariq Jahan, whose 21-year-old son Haroon Jahan was one of those killed, was featured on the front page of several national newspapers addressing an angry crowd and urging them not to take revenge.

"I lost my son. Blacks, Asians, whites -- we all live in the same community. Why do we have to kill one another? Why are we doing this? Step forward if you want to lose your sons. Otherwise, calm down and go home -- please," he said.

Hundreds of people also attended a candlelit vigil in Birmingham overnight for the three men. A 32-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of murder following the incident.

In a typically English development the weather also played a role, with heavy rain in Birmingham and much of northern England helping to keep people off the streets.

In London police reportedly staged coordinated raids early Thursday after a brief spate of looting hours earlier in the posh Sloane Square area in which a Hugo Boss fashion store was targeted.

Police said 888 people had been arrested in London alone since the riots started on Saturday, sparked by anger over the shooting by police of a 29-year-old man, Mark Duggan, in the deprived northern district of Tottenham.

Courts worked through the night in London, Manchester and Birmingham to deal with the huge backlog of cases. Those facing judges have included an 11-year-old boy and a chef, a teaching assistant, an opera steward, an army recruit.

Debate has raged in Britain about what motivated the riots, with the government insisting the rioters -- black, white, Asian, male and female -- were inspired by pure criminality rather than any sense of social injustice.

But the unrest has also raised questions about the spending cuts introduced by Cameron's coalition government since it took office in May 2010 in a bid to slash Britain's record deficit.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg denied that the cuts had anything to do with the extent of the rioting.

"I think it's totally ludicrous to claim that young people are smashing up shops and stealing items of clothing because of cuts -- many of which haven't even happened yet," he said.

Riots have also erupted in the northwestern city of Liverpool, in Nottingham, West Bromwich and Wolverhampton in the Midlands and Gloucester in the west. Dozens of buildings around the country have been burned to the ground.

An online petition calling for any convicted rioters to lose all their welfare payments has attracted nearly 90,000 signatures. If 100,000 people sign it they would trigger a process that could end with lawmakers voting on the plan.

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