London police raid houses, cities quiet

PLEA FOR CALM::The father of a hit-and-run victim in Birmingham was urging calm and abstaining from acts of revenge among angry supporters of the victims

AP and AFP, LONDON

Fri, Aug 12, 2011 - Page 6

Police in London raided houses to round up more rioting suspects yesterday, as Britain’s big cities remained largely quiet after four days of rioting and looting that drew thousands of police officers onto the streets.

British Prime Minister David Cameron issued a stern warning that order would be restored by whatever means necessary.

Metropolitan Police Service Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stephen Kavanagh said the raids to round up suspects began overnight and more than 100 warrants would be executed. Police have already arrested almost 900 people in London since trouble began on Saturday and 371 have been charged.

Hugh Orde, head of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said there would be “hundreds more people in custody” by the end of the day.

Tensions remained high even in the absence of any major incidents and Cameron has recalled Parliament from its summer recess for an emergency debate on the riots later in the day. He was to face questions about what caused the riots and pressure to reconsider planned police budget cuts, which critics claim will strain an already overstretched force.

British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the “sociological debate” about the origins of the violence was for the future.

“Right now it’s important that people are reassured that their streets are made safe, their homes are made safe and society is allowed to move on,” Clegg told BBC radio.

Calm prevailed in London overnight, with a highly visible police presence watching over the capital. The Met said it would keep up the huge operation — involving 16,000 officers — for at least one more night.

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.

There was a brief outbreak of trouble in Eltham, southeast London, where a group of largely white and middle-aged men who claimed to be defending their neighborhood pelted police with rocks and bottles. Police said the incident had been “dealt with” and a group was dispersed.

There were chaotic scenes at courthouses, several of which sat through the night to process scores of alleged looters and vandals, including an 11-year-old boy.

The defendants included Natasha Reid, a 24-year-old university graduate who admitted stealing a TV from a looted electronics store in north London. Her lawyer said she had turned herself in because she could not sleep because of guilt.

Also due to appear in court were several people charged with using social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook to incite violence.

Even as Cameron promised on Wednesday not to let a “culture of fear” take hold, tensions flared in Birmingham, where a murder probe was opened after three men were killed in a hit-and-run incident as they took to the streets to defend shops from looting.

In Birmingham, the father of one of the three men who died in the hit-and-run incident emerged as a heroic figure for his impassioned calls for peace despite the specter of interracial 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.

“We needed a fightback and a fightback is under way,” Cameron said in a somber televised statement outside his Downing Street office after a meeting of the government’s crisis committee.

He said “nothing is off the table” — including water cannons, commonly used in Northern Ireland, but never deployed in mainland Britain.

Senior police officers, however, indicated they had no plans to use water cannons.

The violence has revived debate about the Conservative-led government’s austerity measures, which will slash £80 billion (US$130 billion) from public spending by 2015.