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August 09, 2011

British PM Declares 'Fightback' Against Rioters, Approves Water Cannons

British Prime Minister David Cameron has authorized police to use water cannons after four nights of rioting, looting and arson - saying a "fightback" is under way to restore law and order to Britain's streets.

Water cannons, commonly used in Northern Ireland, have never before been deployed on the British mainland.

Mr. Cameron said Britain will not let a "culture of fear" take control of the country, vowing to punish those responsible for the violence that has left parts of London looking like a war zone.  He said police will be provided whatever resources they need to quell the unrest, adding they have already been authorized to use plastic batons.  

The prime minister spoke after a second emergency meeting of Britain's COBRA security committee.  He will address an emergency session of parliament Thursday.

London was largely calm Wednesday, with 16,000 police officers patrolling streets littered with glass, torched cars and debris from burned-out buildings.  

But fresh violence broke out in other cities, including Manchester and Birmingham, where witnesses say hundreds of rampaging youths smashed windows, looted stores and burned buildings.  Birmingham police opened a murder investigation after three men were killed when they were struck by a car during riots.  The three were trying to protect their community from looters.  Police have a suspect in custody.  

Police have arrested more than 1,100 people across the country, including 800 in London, since the riots erupted on Saturday.  The unrest broke out after the fatal police shooting of a 29-year-old man in London's economically depressed Tottenham neighborhood.  

Some reports say the man shot a handgun at police when they stopped his taxicab.  But a police investigative report Tuesday said a handgun found at the scene had not been fired.  The reason why police shot the victim is still unclear.

Tottenham is home to a large number of ethnic minorities and has a history of racial tensions.  In 1985, a police officer was hacked to death when Afro-Caribbean youths in a deprived housing estate went on a rampage.

Many London residents say the riots were spurred by anger over the gloomy economic situation in north London, including high unemployment and cuts in public services.

The only other fatality of the riots was a man who died Wednesday of gunshot wounds in the south London Croydon district.  At least 58 other people have been injured, mostly police officers.

The violence has raised questions about security as London prepares to host the 2012 Olympic Games.   A Wednesday match between England and the Netherlands at London's Wembley stadium was canceled.