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Three Nights In, U.K. Riots Escalate To 'Breathtaking Scale'

Firefighters battle a large fire that broke out in shops and residential properties in Croydon on August 9.
Dan Kitwood
Getty Images
Firefighters battle a large fire that broke out in shops and residential properties in Croydon on August 9.

Prime Minister David Cameron cut his vacation short and parliament was recalled as riots went into their third night in England. Last night, for the first time, the mayhem spread outside of London to Birmingham and Liverpool. Th e BBC reports that 450 people have been arrested.

The Guardiansaid the disturbances were of a "breathtaking scale," with youth looting shops, setting buildings on fire and using public property as projectiles against police.

Cameron said 10,000 additional police officers would patrol London today, bringing the total presence to 16,000. The Financial Times reports:

The prime minister pledged that the government would do "everything necessary to restore order to Britain's streets", and that parliament would reconvene for a day in order to "stand together in condemnation of these crimes."

Mr Cameron said he had been sickened by scenes of people attacking police officers and fire crews and people having lost their livelihoods. He said the rioters had to be "confronted and defeated".

In a reference to the age of some rioters, he added: "If you are old enough to commit these crimes, you are old enough to face the punishment."

Here is Al Jazeera's video report of the situation:

The riots started on Saturday, when a demonstration protesting the shooting death of black resident turned violent. Mark Duggan was a 29-year-old father of four, who was shot dead by police during what they say was a firefight. The Washington Post reports that the riots first erupted a in poor neighborhood in north London, then quickly spread among disenfranchised youth:

Some, including former London mayor Ken Livingstone, suggested that the Tottenham riot was an unleashing of pent-up resentment over the weak economy, high unemployment rates and historically deep budget cuts that are decreasing government funding for poor communities and grass-roots charities. He cited a sense that young Britons are facing "the bleakest future."

"This is the first generation since the Great Depression that have doubts about their future," he told the BBC.

But others — including Britain's coalition government — denounced the spreading riots as an extraordinary rampage of opportunistic criminality after the Tottenham unrest. Unlike the protests by anarchists in December that included vandalism of central London businesses, those participating in riots in the past 48 hours showed no signs of trying to make a political statement.

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Eyder Peralta
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.