Europe's papers split on blame for British riots

10th August 2011, Comments 0 comments

European newspapers were divided Wednesday on whether reckless criminals are to blame for riots in Britain, or if government failure to address social problems sparked the country's worst unrest in decades.

Editorials in left of centre papers warned that the events unfolding across Britain could happen anywhere on the continent, and that pervasive hopelessness affecting marginalised young people must be dealt with.

"The London riots constitute a serious alarm for the United Kingdom. But also for all mixed-race and inegalitarian Western societies," said the front page of France's left-wing Liberation newspaper.

The unrest in Britain and similar rioting in France in 2005, "above all show the deprivation and the anger of a population which feels excluded," the paper added.

Germany's centre-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily argued "the riots are not purely a British problem. Social distress exists in all of Europe."

Italy's Il Sole 24 Ore labelled the riots "the rage of the lost generation," in a headline, and said improved education is crucial to "restore hope to an entire generation."

Belgium's La Libre Belgique cautioned against trying to justify the reckless conduct of rioters but said the unrest has been fuelled by "economic stagnation" and criticised political leaders for showing "pathetic impotence" in dealing with the problem.

Russian papers were less forgiving of the thieving, rampaging young people who have destroyed property in London and other cities across the country.

"The shops are being looted not for ideological but material reasons," the economic daily Vedomosti said. The Kommersant newspaper said the rioters were not inspired by a desire for "freedom, but for plasma screens."

The Izvestia daily, close to Russia's ruling party, was one of several papers to criticize the response of British police.

"Faced with a menacing situation, the police were not determined enough in their action," the paper judged.

Algemeen Dagblad of the Netherlands argued "the first provisional conclusions show that the police knew too little about organised youth gangs."

The paper urged British police to learn more about disaffected and potentially violent youth groups ahead of the 2012 Olympics.

Police have arrested more than 1,100 people across the country for violence, disorder and looting since the riots erupted on Saturday in the north London district of Tottenham after police shot dead a man.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has vowed to do "everything necessary to restore order to the streets", and the unrest in London was tempered late Tuesday by the 16,000 police deployed around the capital.

Some papers, notably in countries hardest hit by Europe's intensifying debt crisis, argued the British riots are linked to the tough public spending cuts imposed since Cameron's Conservative-led coalition took office last year.

"The politics of austerity" are driving the British unrest, according to the left-wing Eleftherotypia in Greece, where a socialist government has had to force through deep spending cuts in order to secure foreign loans needed to avoid default.

In Portugal, which, like Greece and Ireland, needed a bailout to avert default, the Diario de Noticias said protesting against the cuts to social services imposed by Cameron's government "would be legitimate."

"But," the paper added, "what's happened since Saturday night cannot be considered a protest."

© 2011 AFP

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