British PM hails riots 'fightback', approves water cannon

10th August 2011, Comments 0 comments

Prime Minister David Cameron said a "fightback" had begun Wednesday against Britain's worst riots in a generation, as he authorised the use of water cannon for the first time outside Northern Ireland.

Three Asian men were hit and killed by a car while defending their community from looters in Birmingham and the unrest spread to other English cities, although London was calmer due to an increased police presence.

"We needed a fightback and a fightback is underway," Cameron told a news conference outside 10 Downing Street after meeting top security officials following a fourth night of lawlessness and arson.

Cameron said he would "not allow a culture of fear to exist on our streets" and credited the government's decision to boost police numbers in London to 16,000 overnight as having helped stem the tide of violence.

"We now have in place contingency plans for water cannon to be available at 24 hours' notice," the Conservative premier said, adding that police had already been authorised to use plastic bullets against rioters.

Water cannon have previously been used in the troubled province of Northern Ireland to tackle sectarian tensions but have never been deployed on mainland Britain.

The violence has raised questions about security ahead of the 2012 London Olympics, and it prompted the cancellation of Wednesday's football friendly between England and the Netherlands at Wembley Stadium.

Cameron's tough new line came after he flew back from holiday in Tuscany on Tuesday to take charge of the biggest challenge to the Conservative-led coalition government since it came to power in May last year.

Police have arrested more than 1,100 people across the country since the riots erupted on Saturday in the north London district of Tottenham after police shot dead a man two days earlier.

Three courts in London were to stay open all night Wednesday to deal with riot cases.

Manchester in northwest England and the industrial English Midlands bore the brunt of Tuesday night's violence, although the Third cricket Test against India went ahead as planned at Birmingham's Edgbaston ground.

In Birmingham, Britain's second biggest city, police said they had arrested a man on suspicion of murder after an incident in which a car was driven into a group of people and three Asian Muslim men were killed.

Witnesses said the victims were protecting local shops from rioters.

"They lost their lives for other people, doing the job of the police," witness Mohammed Shakiel said.

Tariq Jahan, whose 21-year-old son Haroon Jahan was one of those killed, urged locals not to take revenge and called for the law to be allowed to take its course.

"I don't blame the government, I don't blame the police, I don't blame nobody," he said. "I'm a Muslim, I believe in divine fate and destiny, and it was his destiny and his fate, and now he's gone."

Police appealed for calm after the deaths, which take the toll from the riots so far to four after a man was found with a gunshot wound to the head in a car in the south London suburb of Croydon on Monday.

The government has blamed "opportunistic" criminals for the unrest, but the opposition says austerity measures and underlying social issues have contributed to the riots, which have mainly been in underprivileged areas.

In Manchester, masked gangs set fire to a girls' fashion store and smashed the glass entrance of the Arndale Centre, the city's main shopping mall, allowing hundreds of youths to run off with armfuls of clothes and shoes.

Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan of Greater Manchester Police, who joined the force after moving to the city in 1981, called the scenes "senseless violence and senseless criminality on a scale I have never witnessed before."

Elsewhere 200 rioters pelted police with missiles in the Toxteth area of the northwest city of Liverpool, which was rocked by huge riots in 1981.

Hooded rioters also set fire to buildings in West Bromwich and Wolverhampton in central England and a police station in nearby Nottingham was firebombed. There was also trouble in the western English town of Gloucester.

The only other fatality of the riots so far was a man found with a gunshot wound to the head in a car in the south London suburb of Croydon.

Meanwhile Libya on Wednesday joined international outcasts Iran and Zimbabwe in voicing scathing criticism of the British government over the riots, with the regime of strongman Moamer Kadhafi saying Cameron had "lost all legitimacy."

© 2011 AFP

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