Britons say criminality fuelled riots, not spending cuts

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Only eight percent of Britons think government spending cuts are behind the recent riots -- the worst in a generation -- and most blame criminality and gang culture, a poll showed Thursday.

The nation is scrambling to pinpoint the factors behind the unprecedented scenes of violence which flared in London late Saturday and spread to other cities, but rejected claims linking them to the government's austerity drive.

A poll conducted by the YouGov agency for Thursday's Sun newspaper said 42 percent of Britons blamed criminal behaviour for the disturbances, while 26 percent pointed the finger at a rise in gang culture.

One in 20 believed that unemployment was the main cause of the riots, which were sparked by the death of a London man in a police shooting, with a similar number blaming racial tensions.

Prime Minister David Cameron said a "fightback" had begun Wednesday as he authorised the use of water cannons for the first time outside Northern Ireland.

Cameron's Conservative-led coalition government is overseeing a programme of swingeing cuts to public-spending programmes as it battles to contain a record deficit.

Most Britons do not blame his government for causing the riots but are critical of his response to the mounting crisis: 57 percent of the 2,534 people surveyed on Monday and Tuesday said he has handled it badly.

Cameron and London mayor Boris Johnson both returned early from holiday to deal with the riots -- albeit after three days of trouble -- and the public were equally unhappy with the capital's mayor, with 54 percent giving him the thumbs down.

There has been much public sympathy for the police in their battle to contain thousands of rampaging youths, and the poll revealed that a vast majority were in favour of the use of tear gas, tasers, mounted police and plastic bullets.

A third of those quizzed even supported the use of live ammunition.

Despite the polices's efforts, there was little faith that the looters would face justice with 85 percent saying they believed that the majority of the criminals would "get away with it".

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

© 2011 AFP

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