LONDON – Violence and looting raged across London and spread to three other major British cities today, as authorities struggled to contain the country’s most serious unrest since race riots set the capital ablaze in the 1980s.
In London, a third straight night of disorder saw buildings, vehicles and garbage dumps set alight, stores looted and police officers pelted with bottles and fireworks, as groups of young people rampaged through neighborhoods.
As authorities struggled to keep pace with unrest unfolding at flashpoints across London, the violence spread to the central city of Birmingham, the western city of Bristol and the northwestern city of Liverpool.
Prime Minister David Cameron cut short his summer vacation in Italy and was headed home for a meeting of the national crisis committee today.
The riots appeared to have little unifying cause – though some involved in the violence claimed to be motivated by government cuts to public spending.
The government was aiming to toughen its stance against the violence, as some communities complained that stretched police were struggling to contain the unrest with rioters plundering from stores at will, menacing shocked customers at restaurants and attempting to invade homes. Stores shut early across London, fearful of violence and looting.
Violence first broke out late Saturday in London’s northern Tottenham district when a peaceful protest over the fatal police shooting of Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old father of four who was gunned down in disputed circumstances Thursday, turned violent.
Duggan’s death stirred old animosities and racial tensions, which prompted riots in the 1980s, despite efforts by London police to build better relations with the city’s ethnic communities after high-profile cases of racism in recent decades.
As the unrest spread, some pointed to rising social tensions in Britain as the government slashes 80 billion pounds ($130 billion) from public spending by 2015 to reduce the huge deficit, swollen after the country spent billions bailing out its foundering banks.
In south London, a massive blaze swept through a 100-year-old family-run furniture store in the borough of Croydon and sent thick plumes of smoke into the air, forcing nearby homes to be evacuated. Police also confirmed they were investigating a nonfatal shooting in Croydon, but were unable to say whether the incident was linked to the chaos.
“This is the uprising of the working class. We’re redistributing the wealth,” said Bryn Phillips, a 28-year-old self-described anarchist, as young people emerged from a store with chocolate bars and ice cream cones.
Phillips claimed rioters were motivated by distrust of the police, and drew a link between the rage on London’s streets and insurgent right-wing politics in the United States. “In America you have the tea party, in England you’ve got this,” he said.