Massive Police Presence Helps Quell British Riots

The streets of London and other British cities were mostly quiet Wednesday night amid a massive police presence that has helped stop the wave of violence and looting that's wracked Britain since the weekend. Courts there worked through the night to process some of those arrested. Parliament is meeting for an emergency session after Prime Minister David Cameron recalled members from their summer break.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The streets of London and other British cities were quiet last night amid a massive police presence that has helped stop the wave of violence and looting that wracked Britain since the weekend. Parliament convened an emergency session today after Prime Minister David Cameron recalled members from their summer break. Cameron, talking tough, promised to keep riots from erupting again.

Mr. DAVID CAMERON (Prime Minister, Great Britain): This was not political protest or a riot about protest or about protest. It was (unintelligible), thieving, robbing and looting. And we don't need an inquiry to tell up that.

MONTAGNE: Prime Minister David Cameron. NPR's Eric Westervelt joins us now from London with the latest. Good morning, Eric.

ERIC WESTERVELT: Hi, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Tell us more about that emergency session of parliament.

WESTERVELT: Well, Renee, Prime Minister Cameron continued a pretty tough line, and rioters in his view were mostly mindless thugs who need, you know, strong sentences, tough police action, and that he said the police will get whatever tools they need to reign in lawlessness and repeated his call that if need be police will be able to use rubber bullets and water cannons.

As for any underlying causes for these riots, there was really little debate, Renee, or talk about that all day. When there was, the prime minister blamed parents, saying, quote, "This was not about poverty, it's about culture, a culture that glorifies violence and disrespects authority." And he said it's up to parents to do more to reign in their children.

MONTAGNE: How many alleged rioters, looters, arsonists have been arrested? Already, some of them I know, hundreds have been brought to court, and who are they?

WESTERVELT: Well, police have arrested nearly 1,000 people in London since the violence. Hundreds more in other major cities across the country The courts have been working overtime, some around the clock to try to try to start to process these cases. Some 400 people, Renee, have already been processed and charged. The crimes include assault, violent disorder and burglary.

As to your question as to who, it's been a real mix. I mean, lots of those arrested so far are pretty young people, some in their 20s and late teens. The youngest so far was an 11-year-old east London boy who admitted to stealing; was sent home on bail. Have also include a 31-year-old teacher's assistant who pleaded guilty to burglary yesterday. And he'll be sentenced at a later date.

MONTAGNE: Now one of the most horrific incidents that came out of the rioting occurred in the central city of Birmingham. Tell us about that.

WESTERVELT: Well, three young Muslim men of South Asian descent were basically run over Tuesday by a black man. He drove his car into them and then sped off. A suspect has been arrested and several others are under investigation in relation to that crime.

But tensions were already running high and this hit-and-run murder, you know, racially-charged attack, threatened to only worsened the situation.

But last night on the fathers of the victim, Tariq Jahan, whose son, 21-year-old Haroon was one of the three killed, made a strong, really impassioned plea for calm and unity. He said we've all got to live together - black, white, Asian. He said I've lost my son, come forward if you want to lose yours. If not, calm down and go home. And last night in that city, in Birmingham things were pretty quiet and there's hope that thing stay quiet again tonight.

MONTAGNE: And the police, as you say, the police have more hand at preventing rioting if things should occur?

WESTERVELT: That's right. There's still 16,000 police on the streets of London. They're going to do that again tonight; a massive police presence throughout this city. They've also beefed up patrols in other cities that have had trouble. And as the prime minister said, as needed, there are other tools available to try to crack down and maintain the peace.

MONTAGNE: Eric, thanks very much.

WESTERVELT: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Eric Westervelt, speaking to us from London.

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