Britain's unrest: A nation in turmoil is searching for answers

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The disorder in the United Kingdom is bad business if it is just summer "wilding," but it is much more serious if it reflects deeper societal problems.

Starting Saturday, a wave of rioting, looting and burning rolled through London and, as of Tuesday, had overtaken the ability of authorities to bring it under control, even with 6,000 police on the streets. Prime Minister David Cameron dispatched 16,000 officers on Tuesday and summoned Parliament to meet Thursday to discuss the crisis.

London, including some middle-class areas, has been the scene of much of the trouble, but Birmingham, Bristol and Liverpool also had riots.

Some analysts note that such disorder occurs periodically in British and other European cities in the summer. Like British soccer hoodlums, those now confronting the police are destroying shops, houses and other property.

Other observers, however, have pointed to Mr. Cameron's austerity measures as a root cause. These rollbacks, like those which may come from mandated U.S. government cuts, have fallen hardest on the United Kingdom's disadvantaged classes, home of the gangs of so-called feral youths who are doing the damage. They have no stake in the British status quo, which has the same gap between rich and poor that afflicts the United States, a 7.7 percent unemployment rate and few prospects for an economic turnaround.

Respect for the British police also is at a low ebb, after charges that some took bribes from Rupert Murdoch's defunct News of the World and the resignation of top Metropolitan Police officials. As a result, fighting the police carries less stigma than it once did.

Time will tell whether the violence and unrest are fleeting or spawned by more deep-rooted societal problems. In the short run, the British must quell the disorder and figure out how to keep it that way, before they host the Summer Olympics next year.


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