British PM puts social media in firing line

PRIME Minister David Cameron has threatened to call in the army and clamp down on social media in response to Britain’s worst riots in decades.

As a police crackdown and heavy rain prevented a fifth night of chaos, Cameron told an emergency session of parliament he would give police extra powers including the ability to order youths to remove face coverings.

He suggested they use technology to control future unrest, by stopping rioters using Twitter, Facebook or BlackBerry Messenger to organise themselves.

Mr Cameron said it was worth exploring whether the army could help control future unrest with “guarding tasks”.

“Everyone watching these horrific actions will be struck by how they were organised by social media,” he said.

“Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill.

“And when people are using social media for violence we need to stop them.

“So we are working with the police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality.”

Police announced today that they had arrested a man in connection with the robbery of a Malaysian student during the riots by a group who pretended to help him.

The incident was caught on film and captured world-wide attention.

The suspect, in his 20s, was taken into police custody as the student, Asyraf Haziq Rosli, insisted he bore no ill feelings about the incident and intended to stay in Britain until he completes his accountancy studies.

In his address to parliament, Mr Cameron said that a year before London hosts the 2012 Olympics, Britain needed to show a more positive face to the world after the riots in which four people have died and dozens of buildings have been torched.

“We will not stop until this mindless violence and thuggery is defeated and law and order is fully restored on all our streets,” he told lawmakers.

“We need to show the world, which has looked on frankly appalled, that the perpetrators of the violence we have seen on our streets are not in any way representative of our country – nor of our young people.”

Anyone whose property was damaged will be compensated, Cameron added.

Britain is still reeling after four of the worst nights of rioting for decades, which started in London then spread to other English cities including Manchester and Birmingham.

The riots started on Saturday, sparked by anger over the shooting by police of a 29-year-old man, Mark Duggan, in the deprived north London district of Tottenham.

Cameron, who cut short his holiday to deal with the crisis, said initially that “simply far too few police were deployed onto the streets”.

Police had treated it as a public order situation instead of criminality, he said.

But he disclosed for the first time that he and senior security officials had discussed calling out the military to help, and said they were examining the possibility that curfews could be used to curb future violence.

“It is my responsibility to make sure that every contingency is looked at — including whether there are tasks that the army could undertake that would free up more police for the front line,” he said.

Those included “some simple guarding tasks” but he added this was “not for today, it is not even for tomorrow, it is just so you have contingency plans in case it becomes necessary”.

He reiterated that police had been given powers to use water cannon and plastic bullets,.

Cameron, whose Conservative-led coalition government is bringing in tough spending cuts, also dismissed claims that poverty had contributed to the unrest, saying it was “not about politics or protest, it is about theft”.

He said there was evidence that “street gangs” had coordinated attacks on police and looting, adding that he wanted Britain to follow the record of US cities like Boston in tackling gang violence.

Police started raiding addresses in London yesterday to arrest people involved in the violence.

Courts meanwhile stayed open overnight to deal with a backlog of more than 1200 people arrested during the riots.

Several people received jail sentences yesterday while others were bailed.

 

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