London carnival reaches finale amid riot fears

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Huge crowds of revellers gathered in London Monday for the finale of the Notting Hill Carnival, amid tight security to avoid a repeat of this month's riots at Europe's biggest street festival.

Around 6,500 police officers, the biggest number deployed in recent years at the Caribbean-themed extravaganza, were on duty in the west London district as crowds watched Samba-style dancers perform on floats.

Monday, a public holiday, is the second and busiest day of the two-day festival which attracts around one million people, and there are fears gangs could hijack the event and go on the rampage in a repeat of the riots.

The frenzy of violence, which erupted in the north London district of Tottenham on August 6 before spreading across the capital and to other cities, were the worst riots in England since the 1980s and left five people dead.

Ahead of the carnival, police said they had seen intelligence suggesting that gangs planned to cause problems and made 40 arrests of people they suspected could stir up trouble.

However, the carnival got off to a peaceful start on Sunday with little trouble and party-goers determined to show the world a more positive side of London in the wake of the unrest.

"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!"

Police said there were just 53 arrests on the first day for offences ranging from drugs-related crimes to theft, slightly lower than the figure for the same period the previous year.

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.

Revellers milled between the stalls and thumping sound systems, drinking, dancing, and tasting jerk chicken as the smells of open-cooked Caribbean food wafted through the air.

The carnival originated as 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 event has a reputation as a magnet for troublemakers and coming so soon after the riots, many feared it might not go ahead at all.

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.

As well as the huge deployment of officers on Monday, about a thousand more than on the second day of the festival last year, Scotland Yard had 5,500 officers on duty Sunday.

Around 4,000 extra officers were also on duty around the capital.

London police commander Steve Rodhouse described Sunday as a "very calm day"

"We've had great fun so far, the sun's shining, people are enjoying themselves, we've made a very small number of arrests, and we're confident in our planning," he said.

Nevertheless, several shops had boarded up their fronts as a precaution and the authorities were on edge.

© 2011 AFP

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