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In Birmingham, the miscreants wait till night dawns

Last updated on: August 9, 2011 21:30 IST

In Birmingham, miscreants wait till night dawns

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Bikash Mohapatra

Rediff.com's Bikash Mohapatra has been covering India's cricket tour of England. On Tuesday, he witnessed the mayhem that has enveloped the nation following the killing of a 29-year-old man in police firing during a protest march

Shops close early here in Birmingham.

We were late though, myself and a senior colleague.

Having wrapped up a hard day's work, it was time to go and buy some essentials, before it got too late.

Our hotel being just outside the City Centre, we preferred to walk. All was hunky-dory till we reached the Bullring (shopping centre).

Then a batch of officers could be seen rushing from one end to the other. Another batch followed soon after. The shrill of the siren was deafening.

Soon the cops were all over the place. (They had the information well in advance through some social networking site and had prepared themselves in advance)

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Image: Men look at a burnt out car after disturbances in the Handsworth area of in Birmingham
Photographs: Darren Staples/Reuters
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As we turned corner, we could see a few masked men staring at us. They didn't seem threatening. It was just that they didn't take their eyes off us.

We kept moving till we bumped into a French couple.

"What's happening? Why have so many cops come here?" asked the man. I was clueless, looking for an answer myself. That came a few minutes later, from Junaid, a Pakistani student.

"You know what happened in Tottenham. It is the Birmingham version of the same," explained Junaid. It had started in the north London suburb with one Mark Duggan being shot dead by the police. In a couple of days it has spread across Britain.

"Unnecessary," I blurted out. He nodded in agreement. By then we had already walked far, right in the midst.


Image: Firemen continue to dowse down buildings set alight during riots in Tottenham in north London
Photographs: Luke MacGregor/Reuters
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In Birmingham, the miscreants wait till night dawns

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The cops game charging in. The masked men started running back. There was no violence. Just dispersing of the mob.

We were told to take a detour. 

We turned towards the Victoria Square, only to a few broken windows. Yes, shops had been ransacked, some right in front of the cops. Things were taking a nasty turn.

A few steps later, we bumped into a few people. They lifted their masks just enough to cover half their faces. The stare remained. The gang increased their pace when the saw the cops rushing.

The men in uniform had started making announcements of clearing the area. We decided to return to the hotel.


Image: A firefighter is reflected in a damaged window in Tottenham, north London
Photographs: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters
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In Birmingham, the miscreants wait till night dawns

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Curiosity took us to the other end of the city though. The residential area was quite safe. The increased patrolling clearly suggested the police wasn't prepared to take any chances.

People of a certain community could be seen rushing towards the centre. A Gujarati businessman, walking back homewards, seemed petrified by the developments.

"Don't go towards the City Centre," he warned. We assured him our hotel was nearby.

"Be careful," he said, before trudging off. It was about 8 pm. We increased our pace, reached the hotel and inquired if there was an alternative market nearby. The answer was a negative.

"There are a few stores down the left but they going there now may not be safe," said an Indian student, working as a trainee in the hotel.

We took the advice, went to our respective rooms, without realizing that was going to happen in the next few hours.


Image: A police officer wearing riot gear stands near a burning police car in Tottenham
Photographs: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters
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The picture became clear this morning.

The damaged shops and the broken glass panes were testimony to the damage inflicted. The mob wasn't interested in anything but looting. They were using the riots in London as an excuse.

Electronic stores and those selling high-end goods had been the most affected. Most of the miscreants had been teenagers, keen on fancy goods. It was difficult to imagine what had happened inside 24 hours everything seemed so peaceful while we were walking through these markets a day earlier.

It took some effort before I could make it to Edgbaston ground. Even as I paid him, the experienced driver had a warning.

"Whatever happened last night was the start. It will go on for a few days. Be careful tonight," he said in a concerned voice.

It is a couple of hours to go before night sets in. I have no clue as to what to expect today, having been witness to the day one mayhem in Birmingham.

Come to think of it, I'll be here for a week. Then I go to the epicentre.

Yes, London is my next destination!


Image: A street cleaner hoses down the street around burned out mini cars set alight during riots in Hackney in London
Photographs: Luke MacGregor/Reuters
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