Britain's second city in prayer vigil for riot dead
Residents of Britain's riot-hit second city unite on Thursday for a mass prayer event ahead of the burials of three men of Asian descent hit by a car while fending off looters.
The deaths last week in Birmingham, central England, proved to be a turning point in the country's worst riots for decades after the grieving father of one of the victims made an emotional appeal for calm.
The open-air vigil on Thursday for victims Haroon Jahan, 21, and brothers Shazad Ali, 30, and Abdul Musavir, 31, comes after a man appeared in court in Birmingham charged with their murder.
Ian Beckford, 30, is the fourth person to be charged in connection with the deaths. He spoke only to confirm his name and address during a brief hearing at Birmingham magistrates court on Thursday.
Police said there would be prayers and speeches at Thursday's memorial event at Summerfield Park in Birmingham's Asian-dominated residential Winson Green district. The event is open to the local community and the media.
"There will be a visible presence of police officers at the event, but not high numbers as this is a peaceful event which is being supported by the police," West Midlands Police said in a statement.
Hearses will then take the coffins of the three men to a private Muslim burial service at Handsworth cemetery.
Five people in total were killed during four nights of rioting in English cities but the deadliest single incident was the one in Birmingham on August 10.
The three men were mown down by a car as they stood guard outside local homes and businesses in an attempt to protect them from looters rampaging through the city.
Tariq Jahan, the father of the youngest victim, emerged as a heroic figure as he defused growing tensions over their deaths, making an impassioned plea to a group of angry men from the South Asian community.
Urging them not to seek revenge, he said: "I don't want any of you to fight... My son died defending the community he lived in. We're part of this community so please go home."
Police in the area have acknowledged that Jahan's plea lowered the temperature in Winson Green, a racially mixed area where relations between different communities are largely good.
The other two deaths during the riots both happened in London. A man was shot dead in his car by suspected rioters in the south London suburb of Croydon while a 68-year-old man was beaten to death in Ealing, west London.
A 16-year-old boy appeared in court on Tuesday accused of the Ealing murder.
More than 2,500 people have been arrested over the riots, nearly 500 of them in the West Midlands, the area that covers Birmingham.
Debate has raged in Britain over the underlying causes of the riots, which first erupted in the north London district of Tottenham on August 6 after a man was shot dead by police.
British Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday backed tough sentences for rioters after campaigners raised concerns about two men jailed for four years each for trying to organise unrest on Facebook.
Cameron, a centre-right Conservative, has blamed a "slow-motion moral collapse" in British society and vowed tough measures to combat street gangs.
But the opposition Labour party says social deprivation and inequality is the major factor, exacerbated by spending cuts by Cameron's coalition government which are aimed at cutting Britain's record deficit.
© 2011 AFP