London rocks to carnival beat despite riot fears
London's colourful Notting Hill Carnival got off to a peaceful start on Sunday, defying fears that Europe's biggest street festival could be marred by a repeat of this month's devastating riots.
The two-day, Caribbean-flavoured extravaganza draws up to a million revellers out onto the west London streets to watch troupes of dancers in exotic costumes perform on floats as powerful sound systems pump out music.
But there were few early arrests amid a beefed-up police presence Sunday as revellers vowed to put the riots behind them and show off a better side of London life.
"It's healing for the riots," care worker Graham Randall told AFP.
"It shows everybody who comes here that we can have a good time in the streets, without rioting!"
In the weak sunshine, dozens of floats and shimmering dancers in feathers paraded through the Notting Hill neighbourhood on what is traditionally "children's day" at the carnival.
"Most of the people rioting were young people, and young people do love events like this. So no, I don't think it (the riots) is going to ruin it," said carnival-goer Shenika Roban.
"If anything, it'll make it big. I think a lot of people will come here. I don't think anyone will be deterred."
Revellers milled between the stalls and thumping sound systems, drinking, dancing, and tasting jerk chicken as the smells of open-cooked Carribbean food wafted through the air.
The carnival's history is steeped in a positive response to rioting.
It was founded in 1964 following the disturbances in Notting Hill six years earlier that saw clashes between whites and newly arrived immigrants from the West Indies.
But the festivities could have been scrapped following England's worst riots since the 1980s.
The urban unrest, arson and looting, which started in north London on August 6 before spreading across the capital and to other cities, caused enormous damage and left five people dead.
Add to this the Notting Hill Carnival's reputation as a magnet for troublemakers, and many questioned whether the event should go ahead.
However, police chiefs and the organisers came to an agreement to keep it on -- including closing early at 7:00 pm (1800 GMT) to allow revellers to disperse before darkness falls.
Scotland Yard is deploying 5,500 officers on Sunday and 6,500 on Monday, about a thousand more than last year. Around 4,000 extra officers are also on duty around the capital.
Police said they had made eight early arrests: seven drug-related and one for a public order offence.
"This year, carnival is very significant for us in light of the recent events," said Ansan Wong, a funding director for one of the bands taking part.
"So we are hoping that this theatre on the streets will engage... all communities to bring the celebration of the diverse cultures of London to the public."
London Mayor Boris Johnson said the carnival would "let the true spirit of London shine through".
"We can show the world that the overwhelming majority of London's people are decent, law-abiding citizens who respect the law, love their city and want to celebrate our vibrant, diverse and historical culture," he said.
Nevertheless, several shops had boarded up their fronts as a precaution and the authorities were primed.
Scotland Yard told AFP it had made 40 arrests ahead of this year's event, targeting known thugs planning to exploit the festival for violence and criminal activity.
"We do have intelligence that some gangs do want to come to the carnival and create trouble for us," Commander Steve Rodhouse said.
© 2011 AFP