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The BBC's Gavin Hewitt
"When the police intervened they became the target"
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The BBC's Jonathan Beale
"The Tories are angered at the suggestion that the debate on asylum... contributed"
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Councillor Richard Knowles
"The police did their best"
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Kashad Ahmed, Pakistani Community Association
"We are trying to calm things down"
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Sunday, 27 May, 2001, 14:51 GMT 15:51 UK
Appeals for calm after Oldham riots
Live And Let Live pub
Windows were smashed and cars burned out
Community leaders have appealed for calm after hundreds of Asian youths clashed with police during a night of rioting in Oldham.

Fifteen officers were injured and 17 people arrested after weeks of racial tension between white and Asian youths erupted into violence.

We have never seen scenes like it

Chief Supt Eric Hewitt

Greater Manchester Police described the running battles as "sheer carnage."

Conservative leader William Hague has rejected claims that his comments on asylum could have worsened the racial tension.

Youth workers said they were "shocked" that the situation had got so out of control.

The riots are understood to have begun after a gang of white youths attacked Asian homes in the Glodwick area of the town earlier on Saturday evening.

Four people were arrested in connection with that attack.

Youth worker Ashid Ali, chairman of the Oldham Bangladeshi Youth Association, said far-right organisations had been trying to provoke violence for weeks.

"Things were boiling away and things were about to go out of control and yesterday it did go out of control," he said.

"Unfortunately the whole of the UK will look at this as being a riot between the police and Asian youths, when it was clearly sparked by white youths."

He appealed to Asian youths not to allow a repeat of the incident.

Police criticised

"We need to make sure this does not happen again, yesterday was a one-off and we need to go back to normality again," he said.

During the violence, up to 500 youths hurled petrol bombs, bricks and firecrackers at the police lines.

Riot police
Firebombs were thrown at police
Shots were fired from the crowd and at times, the bombardments of missiles forced police to withdraw.

Officers recovered a firearm during the incident.

Debris, including burned out, overturned cars, littered the streets as most of the rioters cleared at daybreak.

Asian youths have blamed police for failing to react to attacks from white racists on their communities over recent weeks.

Daoob Akram, who has lived in Glodwick for 35 years, said people had been coming into the area from outside Oldham and "hitting young children and women and smashing windows".

"Young people who rioted yesterday believe that they weren't being protected by police and this is why they came out and did what they did," he told BBC News on Sunday.

"What they did was disgraceful and it shouldn't have happened - but the police and the local authorities need to make sure they protect the Asian community."

Hague refutes criticism

But Chief Superintendent Eric Hewitt said: "Tensions have been rising in this borough for some months and extra police have been on patrol but no one could have predicted the ferocity and violence that took place.

"Officers were under a barrage of petrol bombs from 9.30pm until between 4am and 5am. It was quite horrendous.

It's much more likely to be the chaos, mismanagement and unfairness of our asylum system today that's causing problems

William Hague
"It shocked not only the police but it shocked the whole community."

Mr Hewitt said police were prepared for more trouble on Sunday but extra police would be in the Oldham area.

He said community relations had been set back but steps needed to be taken to "rebuild trust".

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes said the violence in Oldham could be indirectly linked with the election campaign.

But Mr Hague accused the Lib Dems of trying to play the race card themselves.

"Asylum is an entirely different issue to race," Mr Hague said.

"It's much more likely to be the chaos, mismanagement and unfairness of our asylum system today that's causing problems."

Home Secretary Jack Straw defended Mr Hague.

"We have all got a duty to moderate our language, but I do think it is impossible to argue, incredible to argue, that what happened in Oldham yesterday can be laid at the door of William Hague.

"I don't think debate is helped by that, because I have seen time after time situations where people get involved in violence and they scrabble around for any excuse to eschew their own responsibility."

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27 May 01 | Vote2001
Riots spark race row
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