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London riots: Thousands of police flood streets to quell violence

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"The information we have at the moment would support the idea that the car was deliberately driven," he said, appealing for calm. "My concern would be that that single incident doesn't lead to a much wider level of distress and even violence between different communities."

(Photo: Associated Press)

The violence has revived debate about the Conservative-led government's austerity measures, which will slash 80 billion pounds ($130 billion) from public spending by 2015 to reduce the country's swollen budget deficit.

Cameron's government has slashed police budgets as part of the cuts. A report last month said the cuts will mean 16,000 fewer police officers by 2015.

London mayor Boris Johnson — like Cameron, a Conservative — broke with the government to say such cuts are wrong.

"That case was always pretty frail and it has been substantially weakened," he told BBC radio. "This is not a time to think about making substantial cuts in police numbers."

But in London, an eerie calm prevailed. Scenes of ransacked stores, torched cars and blackened buildings have frightened and outraged Britons just a year before their country is to host next summer's Olympic Games, bringing demands for a tougher response from law enforcement. Police across the country have made almost 1,200 arrests — including 800 in London — since the violence broke out in the capital on Saturday.

Armored vehicles and convoys of police vans backed up some 16,000 officers on duty — almost triple the number who were out Monday night. The show of force seems to have worked — there were no reports of major trouble in London on Tuesday night, although there were scores of arrests.

"What happened in London last night was, when community leaders and the police came together, there were significant arrests," said police deputy assistant chief constable Stephen Kavanagh. "Some looters were taken away before they got into doing anything, but it was that joint action that made the difference."

Britain's soccer authorities were talking with police to see whether this weekend's season-opening matches of the Premier League could still go ahead in London. A Wednesday match between England and the Netherlands at London's Wembley stadium was canceled.

Britain's riots began Saturday when an initially peaceful protest over a police shooting in London's Tottenham neighborhood turned violent. That clash has morphed into a general lawlessness in London and several other cities that police have struggled to halt.

While the rioters have run off with goods every teen wants — new sneakers, bikes, electronics and leather goods — they also have torched stores apparently just to see something burn. They were left virtually unchallenged in several neighborhoods, and when police did arrive they often were able to flee quickly and regroup.

Some residents stood guard to protect their neighborhoods — Sikhs protected their temple in Southall, west London, and some 1,000 far-right members reportedly took to the streets to deter rioters.

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