Fears of fresh riots at major London carnival

26th August 2011, Comments 0 comments

Police will be on high alert at the Notting Hill Carnival in London this weekend amid fears that Europe's biggest street festival could be marred by a repeat of this month's devastating riots.

The annual extravaganza, dubbed by organisers as a "Caribbean showcase for the world", attracts a million spectators to see floats with powerful sound systems packed with outlandishly dressed dancers make their way through west London.

With costumes such as colourful headdresses decorated with feathers and huge wings, the troupes dance in front of packed crowds as the smell of exotic food fills the air, in an event that is a huge tourist draw for the area.

But the festivities on Sunday and Monday's highpoint -- which is also a public holiday -- almost did not take place at all this year in the wake of riots that erupted in the capital and spread across England.

The frenzy of looting and destruction, which started in the north London district of Tottenham on August 6 before spreading across the capital and to other cities, left five people dead in the worst riots in England for decades.

Police have arrested more than 2,000 people in London alone in connection with the violence.

Add to this the Notting Hill Carnival's reputation as a magnet for troublemakers, and many commentators thought it inevitable the event would be axed.

The organisers were not ready to admit defeat in the face of an outbreak of civil disobedience, however, especially because the carnival itself originated as an act of defiant celebration in response to race riots in the 1950s.

The carnival was founded in 1964 following the disturbances in Notting Hill six years earlier, which saw clashes between whites and newly arrived immigrants from the West Indies.

"We are not going to let a minority stop us from doing what we want," Ancil Barclay, the festival's co-director, told AFP.

"Cancelling the event would have had a negative impact and would have sent a bad message with the Olympics next year. It would have told the world that London isn't equipped to deal with disturbances."

Nevertheless, authorities are on edge.

Police said Wednesday they had made at least 35 arrests ahead of the carnival and warned intelligence showed that gangs were planning to cause trouble.

There will be 6,500 police officers on duty in the area on Monday, almost 1,000 more than last year, while there will also be several hundred extra officers on duty on Sunday.

More than 4,000 officers will be on duty elsewhere in the capital "as well as the thousands who are normally on duty", said Steve Rodhouse, a commander with London's Metropolitan Police.

"We realise that carnival will be taking place this year in unusual and exceptional circumstances," Rodhouse said.

Organisers have also taken steps to ensure trouble does not flare up, with the festival starting and finishing earlier and extra stewards to keep order.

But despite fears of violence, many remain positive about the event, which Barclay hailed as "a Caribbean showcase for the world and... the biggest ethnically diverse event in Europe."

"It is a joy to be there, a joy to show off your handiwork, to know it's your culture," Rochelle Birbal, a 23-year-old nursery nurse who has spent three months preparing her carnival outfit, told The Times newspaper.

© 2011 AFP

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