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Sunday May 27 11:18 AM ET

British Police Restore Order After Racial Clash By Ed Cropley

OLDHAM, England (Reuters) - Police restored order to the violence-scarred streets of this northern English manufacturing town Sunday after race riots involving whites and Asians injured 30 people and led to 25 arrests.

The violence Saturday night thrust race relations, crime, immigrant numbers and asylum seekers all high up the agenda for Britain's June 7 general election.

A police spokeswoman said the fighting, Britain's worst race incident since a white supremacist's nail bomb attacks two years ago, was sparked by a gang of white youths who threw bricks at a house belonging to a Bangladeshi family earlier Saturday.

As news of the attack spread, hundreds of Asian youths, many born in Britain after their Bangladeshi families moved to Britain as textile factory workers from the Indian sub-continent in the 1960s, descended on Oldham's run-down town center.

Some 500 youths hurled bricks and petrol bombs at hundreds of police who were rushed several miles from nearby Manchester, England's main northern city.

Cars were set on fire, at least five pubs firebombed and police cars badly damaged.

``There were fires burning in the streets, there was rubble all over the road and the air was full of smoke,'' the police spokeswoman said.

``They threw quite a lot of petrol bombs,'' Manchester police Superintendent Eric Hewitt told reporters. ``I am very angry. We could have had someone killed.''

``We have seen tensions building here for many months, but not on the scale we saw last night. No one can provide an explanation for this at the moment. We will be looking to rebuild confidence in the community,'' Hewitt said.

Home (Interior) Minister Jack Straw said Saturday's violence was ``initially set off by whites and later, more seriously, involved Asians.''

Paul Barrow, landlord of the Live and Let Live Pub, told Reuters he was ``shell-shocked'' by the violence which reached its height after midnight as Asian youths roamed the streets.

``This is total devastation,'' he said surveying the burned curtains and smashed windows of his pub.

A Reuters photographer was attacked and his equipment smashed during the height of the rioting.

John Hamley, landlord of the Ordnance Arms pub said parts of the town had been turned into no-go areas for whites. He said police had lost control of the town.

Oldham hit the headlines in Britain earlier this year when national newspapers printed pictures of the battered face of a 76-year-old white man who said he had been attacked by a gang of Asian youths. A 15-year-old Asian boy was later charged with racially-motivated assault.

The simmering racial tensions in Oldham have become so explosive that earlier this month Straw banned political marches in the town.

On May 5, police arrested 16 people after the ultra-right wing National Front party went ahead with a march in defiance of the ban.

Ethnic minorities, mainly from the Caribbean, the Indian sub-continent and Africa as well as Chinese make up about five percent of Britain's 57 million population.

Latest official statistics show Bangladeshis number about 300,000.

Britain's main opposition Conservative Party, badly trailing Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labor Party government in opinion polls for next month's election, has tried unsuccessfully until now to make crime and a growth in the number of refugees and immigrants coming to Britain an issue in next month's election.

The so-called debate about whether Britain is a ``safe haven'' or a ``soft touch'' for immigrants has pitted the Conservatives demands for a crackdown against Labour's belief that genuine immigrants should not be penalized.

There have been complaints from ethnic groups about police treatment of immigrants but in general race relations in Britain are smoother than in most European nations with other large immigrant populations.

-- K (, May 27, 2001


Police set for third night of riots

Hundreds of riot police are gearing up for a third night of tension on the streets of Oldham following a weekend of ferocious racial violence.

Today's Top News Police set for third night of riots Hague: Asylum policy not to blame Asians 'retaliated against skinheads' Donald Campbell's body may be found Protesters heckle Blair in Sedgefield The town has seen some of the worst race-related violence in Britain for 15 years and police say there will be no scaling down of its presence on the streets.

Officers from Greater Manchester Police have been criticised by some members of the local Asian community for their "heavy-handed" dispersal of Asian youths.

But Assistant Chief Constable Alan Bridge said: "There will be no scale down tonight."

On Saturday night a 500-strong mob of Asian youths went on a seven- hour rampage hurling petrol bombs and bricks at police in what one senior officer described as a night of "ferocity and sheer carnage".

A total of 15 police officers were injured and 17 people were arrested. On Sunday night there was further sporadic fighting across the town as gangs of youths hurled more petrol bombs and erected burning barricades of tyres and furniture.

Police and council officials said activity by right-wing extremists had stirred up racial tensions in the town.

There has been a National Front and British National Party presence in Oldham since April 28, when right-wing extremists attached to Stoke City Football Club visited the town for the match against Oldham Athletic FC.

Chief Superintendent Eric Hewitt, who heads the Oldham division of Greater Manchester Police, said: "We appealed for a banning order on the National Front's marching but since then they have come along to Oldham with the express purpose of just being here and walking about the streets.

"The law quite clearly says that is allowed and indeed we have a duty to protect them as we do all citizens. " name=til

-- Martin Thompson (, May 28, 2001.

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