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Police Battle Rioters in Northern UK Cities; London Quiet

London's streets were quiet Tuesday night after three nights of rioting, but police battled with looters in several other UK cities, including Manchester, Liverpool, Nottingham and Birmingham as the country's violent unrest continued for a fourth night.

An aerial view of the Sony distribution center engulfed in fire on the 9th August, 2011 in London. Widespread looting, arson and clashes with police continued for a third day in parts of the capital, as well as in Liverpool, Birmingham and Bristol, as the disruption carries into a fourth night.
Dacid Goddard | Getty Images
An aerial view of the Sony distribution center engulfed in fire on the 9th August, 2011 in London. Widespread looting, arson and clashes with police continued for a third day in parts of the capital, as well as in Liverpool, Birmingham and Bristol, as the disruption carries into a fourth night.

More than 900 people have been arrested across the country, including 770 in London, as hooded and masked youths looted stores and attacked police with bottles, bricks and in some cases, vehicles.

In Manchester, where shops in the city center were looted and set alight, assistant chief constable Garry Shewan said in a statement that his force had been faced with "extraordinary levels of violence from groups of criminals intent on committing widespread disorder."

"These people have nothing to protest against—there is no sense of injustice or any spark that has led to this. It is, pure and simple, acts of criminal behavior which are the worst I have seen on this scale," he added.

In Birmingham, three people were killed when they were hit by a car in an incident being linked to the unrest in the city. Local media is reporting that the men were protecting their property against rioters.

London's streets were quiet as night fell Tuesday, with 16,000 police officers deployed to the capital after three nights of rioting. All leave had been canceled and officers were drafted in from as far away as Manchester. Some 6,000 personnel, supported by armored vehicles, dogs and horses, had been on the streets Monday evening as mobs looted stores and vandalized property.

Mare Street, the center of East London's violence on Monday, was almost empty, with few shops still open. CNBC.com witnessed around 10 riot vans from Hampshire and Northumbria heading east toward the London Fields area of East London, but there was little evidence of the level of disorder seen the previous night, when burning vehicles and street furniture littered the streets.

In London, the Metropolitan Police Service reported that 111 police officers have been injured, several seriously, as rioters and looters lashed out against them.

Parliament has been recalled for Thursday as the government ponders its response to the violence.

Politicians Vow Response

Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson both returned from their holidays in response to the widening social concerns over the rioting. Cameron chaired a meeting of the government's COBRA emergency planning group early Tuesday and was due to hold a second meeting on Wednesday to discuss the effectiveness of the response.

An England versus Holland soccer match, scheduled for Wednesday night in London, was called off Tuesday.

Speaking outside 10 Downing Street, Cameron said that the rioting was "criminality, pure and simple."

"People should be in no doubt that we will do everything necessary to restore order to Britain's streets," he said.

Parliament will be recalled on Thursday, Cameron said.

MPS Commander Christine Jones issued a statement on Monday warning that the violence would not go unpunished.

"We are using tactics flexibly to respond to the disorder we are still seeing in different areas of the capital. Anyone involved in criminality should be under no illusion that we will pursue you," she said. "We have been making arrests all evening and have a team working during the night examining CCTV images. We will follow up evidence in the coming days in order to bring anyone else responsible for criminal acts to justice."

The MPS has begun to release closed circuit television footage of lootersto media in an attempt to identify and deter offenders as part of "Operation Withern."

Retailers Affected

A distribution center for Sony media products caught on fire in Enfield, North London, on Monday night.

The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS), a trade organization, told CNBC.com that 93 stores had been affected by the violence, either directly or by deliveries being disrupted. Trade is slow and many stores in affected areas are planning to close early, the ACS said.

The lasting damage could be considerable, according to the ACS. "A significant minority of retailers only insure against fire or business-threatening incidents," a spokesperson for the organization said. This may mean they are not covered for the damage caused by looters.

"Experience from Northern Ireland suggests that retail areas can take a long time to recover from rioting," the spokesperson added. "In some cases retailers decide not to re-open."

In a statement, Nick Starling, director of general insurance and health at the Association of British Insurers, said: "It is too early for us to have an accurate picture of total costs, especially business interruption costs, but insurers are expecting significant losses, of at least tens of millions of pounds."

Retailers had already responded by shutting stores early. Supermarket chain Sainsbury's closed stores, including its Whitechapel branch, which has a large electronics section, on Monday and Tuesday evenings. Looters had been routinely targeting high-value electrical and fashion stores, taking televisions, computers, and video game consoles.

A riot police officer attempts to break down the door of a house next to a burning car as he is targeted by rioters after local residents claimed a baby was still in the property in Clarence Road in Hackney in London, England.
Getty Images
A riot police officer attempts to break down the door of a house next to a burning car as he is targeted by rioters after local residents claimed a baby was still in the property in Clarence Road in Hackney in London, England.

“A number of our stores were closed earlier than usual (Monday) as a precaution, in some cases on the advice of police. Sixteen of our stores experienced serious incidents during the disturbances last night. All of these stores have now reopened, except three of our convenience stores, which remain closed and will reopen as soon as possible," a Sainsbury's spokesperson told CNBC.com. "All our other stores are open for business as usual. As far as we are aware, no customers or store colleagues have been injured, and their safety remains our priority.

“We are assessing the situation on an hour by hour basis, as the safety of our customers and store colleagues is paramount. We will continue to take advice from police and other authorities throughout the day,” the spokesperson said.

At least one Tesco store was looted in Hackney on Monday. A Tesco spokesperson told CNBC.com that the group was liaising with the police and that decisions to close stores would be taken on a local level.

"A number of Tesco stores in London and other major English cities were affected by criminal gangs of looters and arsonists overnight. Once again we commend the actions of our hard-working and courageous staff in opening all but one of these stores this morning. We will cooperate fully with the police in bringing these criminals to justice," the spokesperson said.

Greggs, which operates a chain of bakers, suffered damage across a number of stores.

“The safety and security of our employees and customers is paramount, and we have instigated a number of planned closures and additional security measures according to the expert advice we are receiving. We can confirm that our Peckham shop has been affected by fire but, thankfully, our employees were clear of the premises and only a small number of other shops have suffered damage at this point in time," a spokesman for the FTSE 250 company said.

The destruction of the Sony Digital Audio Disc Corp. facility also highlighted how the disruption began to spread to other industries. The site held stock from many major record companies, but among the affected businesses was PIAS, which handles distribution for independent artists and labels in the U.K., many of whom are expected to have lost their entire stock. Darren Hemmings, the company's head of digital marketing said on Twitter that they were aware that the whole site had burned to the ground, and that they were still trying to estimate the damage done to the business.

London's public transport began to work relatively quickly on Tuesday morning, and there were no major disruptions being reported, as the city tried to return to normality.

Social networking is understood to have played a part in directing the riots, and in the aftermath.

Suggestions that looters have organized their actions using Blackberry Messenger, a free communication network amongst users of Research In Motion handsets, popular amongst British teenagers, have sparked calls for the system to be restricted or taken down.

David Lammy, member of parliament for Tottenham, where the riots began, was among those demanding that the network be suspended.

Research In Motion has offered to cooperate with the U.K. police force.

A counter-movement focusing on recovering had begun to develop by Monday morning. The @riotcleanupTwitter account had attracted more than 85,000 followers by Wednesday morning, as residents of London and other affected cities pledged to clear up the debris left by their antisocial neighbors.

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