Far-right accused over UK riots
By Sarah Sultoon and Graham Jones
LONDON, England (CNN) -- Concerns are mounting in Britain at the growing influence of far-right groups after a series of riots in northern English towns.
Millions of pounds of damage, hundreds of police injuries, 150 arrests and still-smouldering racial tension are the costs so far of six weeks of violence in towns with large Asian Muslim communities, culminating in this weekend's disturbances in the Yorkshire city of Bradford.
While PM Tony Blair's government was considering the use of water cannon and police re-evaluating tactics on racial disturbances, community workers warned of more violence ahead -- including in deprived areas of London -- and a possible "long hot summer."
Tanuka Loha, a black community worker in the east London borough of Newham, told CNN: "Those disenfranchised and deprived communities in the capital are almost certainly going to watch that violence on the television and relate to it."
Britain's growing racial troubles have been matched by the growing presence in poor urban areas of the far-right National Front (NF) party and a stronger than expected showing in the June general election of the far-right British National Party (BNP).
Riots in the northern towns of Oldham, Burnley and Bradford all followed a pattern and are set against the backdrop of growing anti-immigration politics across Europe.
The NF and BNP, like Vlamms Blok in Belgium, the Freedom Party in Austria and the Danish People's Party of Pia Kjaersgaard, have gained from pent-up fears about crime, alleged exploitation by immigrants of state benefits and loss of national identity.
In Oldham West in June the BNP won 6,552 votes or 16.4 percent, its best showing in the country. BNP leader Nick Griffin was in Bradford on Friday addressing supporters. CNN's Diana Muriel said events escalated in Bradford after a group of white "skinheads" had emerged from a pub in Bradford on Saturday shouting racial taunts at a group of Pakistani youths.
A march by the NF in Bradford had been banned but 20 of its supporters -- and hundreds from the Anti-Nazi League (ANL) who were to have mounted a counter-demonstration -- had turned up.
The confrontation led to police being called in and groups of youths congregating in the city centre.
Muriel said Anti-Nazi Leaguers told Asian youths the NF were in town saying they were going to cause trouble "and we're not going to let them." This had raised the temperature.
Muriel said that as more youths gathered -- some from outside the city including the previous riot venue of Oldham -- and more and more police arrived, a riot began.
The police made a decision to push the youths away from the city centre into the Manningham area, home to many of the area's 55,000-strong Pakistani-origin population.
This is where the serious rioting and looting took place as the police became overwhelmed by a ferocious barrage of bricks and firebombs from a mob clearly enjoying the chance to "have a go" at authority.
On Monday Blair's spokesman said the disturbances were simply "thuggery" and violent protesters had ended up "destroying their own community."
The Anti-Fascist Action group, a London-based organisation committed to "ideological and physical opposition to fascism" accused British politicians of contributing with "inflammatory language" on immigration.
"Home Secretary David Blunkett and his colleagues have been posturing over their tough stance on immigration, fuelling the far-right and further alienating minority communities across the country," a spokesman said.
"Terms like 'bogus refugees' and 'bogus asylum seekers' have a very real impact on the ground."
Maxie Hayles of the Birmingham Racial Attacks Monitoring Unit said the picture was "gloomy" and that he expected violence to be repeated in other areas.
He said the outbreaks of violence followed a pattern which coincided with far-right groups targeting an area and spreading rumours about "no-go" areas for whites and non-white groups getting a disproportionate share of urban regeneration funds.
"I think it is a definite new strategy by the National Front. They target an area with lower middle class whites and social deprivation and propagandise -- breeding fear within a community.
"The police need to be more decisive in dealing with far-right groups."
A spokesman for the UK Home Office said while there was a law in place for an incitement to cause racial hatred, it was a matter for the police and law enforcement agencies to act on it.
A West Yorkshire police spokesman said it was "difficult to speculate on the political affilation of people on the streets" but said five NF members had been met by police and turned away.
The spokesman reiterated that the riots were a matter of "criminal behaviour" and said there was "overwhelming suppport" among local people for the force's course of action.
That was the view of local Labour MPs who said a hard core of Muslim youth who had won the battle in the area for control of drugs had relished the chance for a confrontation with the police. But their response, they said, was out of proportion to the presence of the NF and BNP.
Shahid Malik, a member of the UK government's Commission for Racial Equality, who was hospitalised while attempting to stave off the violence in Burnley said: "What we are seeing in the north of England is a reaction by local people to the infiltration of far-right groups like the BNP and the NF in their towns."
Malik, who says he was struck by a police riot shield in Burnley, said underlying social problems -- deprivation, criminality and opportunism -- created the conditions for the disturbances.
He called for a rethink of basic democratic principles. "Freedom of speech is not an unqualified principle. If it results in this kind of anarchy and mayhem as a direct reaction to the presence of the far-right, then we have to go back to the drawing board."
"We must now go so far as to think the unthinkable: banning political parties like these. We have to start questioning the validity of parties like the NF and the BNP."
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