British city in prayer vigil for riot 'martyrs'
Thousands of mourners rallied in Britain's second city Birmingham Thursday for the Muslim funeral prayers of three "martyrs" run down by a car while defending their community from rioters.
In a sombre open-air event near where the South Asian men were killed in the single deadliest incident of last week's unrest, men in traditional dress knelt alongside others wearing T-shirts emblazoned with photos of the victims.
The ceremony came as Prince Harry visited firefighters and police in the northwestern city of Manchester in a show of royal support as the country struggles to come to terms with its worst civil disorder for decades.
In Birmingham, a prayer leader paid tribute to Haroon Jahan, 21, and brothers Shazad Ali, 30, and Abdul Musavir, 31, who were hit and killed by a car on April 10 as they stood guard outside local homes and shops at the height of the riots.
"These three people are martyrs and the best we can do for them is to pray for them and for ourselves. To pray for our community," Muslim scholar Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi told the mourners in the central English city.
Some mourners comforted each other and some wiped away tears but most remained calm during the prayers at Summerfield Park in Birmingham's Asian-dominated residential Winson Green district, near the spot where the men died.
A message on screens erected at the park read: "Three precious souls gave their lives protecting all of us."
A private burial ceremony for the three men was held later Thursday.
Police said more than 20,000 people attended the ceremony.
They said there was a "visible presence" of officers but not a high number as it was a "peaceful event which is being supported by the police".
The prayers were held just hours after the fourth person so far to be charged with their murder appeared in court in Birmingham. Ian Beckford, 30, spoke only to confirm his name and address during a brief hearing.
The three men's deaths ended up being a turning point in the four nights of rioting which spread from London to other cities, just one year before the capital hosts the 2012 Olympics.
Tariq Jahan, the father of the youngest victim, emerged as a heroic figure as he defused growing tensions, making an impassioned plea to a group of angry men from the South Asian community who wanted to seek revenge.
He said just hours after the three were killed: "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."
There were two other fatalities during the riots, both 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.
In Manchester, Prince Harry met fire crews and police officers sent into deal with a wave of arson, violence and looting on August 9 in Salford, Greater Manchester.
The 26-year-old prince, third in line to the throne and an army helicopter pilot, made the visit a day after his father Prince Charles and his wife Camilla met families left homeless by the riots in London.
Charles, whose Prince's Trust charity has worked for 35 years to improve the lives of disadvantaged youngsters, said society had to deal with the "real causes" rather than the "symptoms" of England's worst civil unrest in decades.
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 has blamed a "slow-motion moral collapse" in British society but the opposition Labour party says social deprivation and government cuts played a role.
© 2011 AFP