Cafe becomes the target of a divided community: Jonathan Foster spent two nights on the streets of Blackburn and Burnley as youths went on the rampage

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The Independent Online
FOUR crates full of petrol bombs were primed for another attack on Khan's Cafe last night as the urge for revenge and the power of pride remained volatile among Blackburn Asians.

About 800 had been on the narrow streets of the Whalley Range area on Monday night. Steep, narrow streets divided. Most residents stayed indoors as young, Punjabi-speaking Pakistanis fought young Gujerati-speaking Indians. All are Muslims, but no theological conflict took place on Balaclava Street.

In the Lancastrian dialect of their birthplace, they described yesterday how friends and allies of two young Indians gathered to exact revenge on Pakistanis for a beating on a playing field.

During more than five hours, when rumours stimulated machismo, the skirmish became a serious disturbance on a warm, end of school term night.

Sgt Tom Maudsley, the popular community liaison police officer, was taken to hospital after being hit by a brick as he sought to establish a truce.

Shortly before midnight, Lancashire Police had been drawn into the area in numbers sufficient to attract repeated volleys of bricks and petrol bombs from the factions they had succeeded in separating. Twelve officers were injured, firefighters threatened, and seven men arrested.

Three cars were set on fire, others had their windows smashed, but Khan's Cafe was the main target, and the fury that came down the hill was not focused on damaging just property.

A member of the eponymous Khan family was understood to be in protective custody last night. At the cafe, an upstairs room had been firebombed. Every window was bricked in what was formerly the Balaclava pub. And in the old taproom and saloon stood nine slot machines and two pool tables. Indian youths say Khan's Cafe attracts a proud and arrogant gang of Pakistanis which has made the commanding corner site its base. The Indian youths claim that the Pakistanis are involved in drugs and gambling and are part of a loosely-organised neighbourhood gang which does not like Indians. The feeling is mutual.

Gulsher Khan, who has run the place for three years, said he did not know in detail what had caused the fighting. 'Pakis and Indians,' he said. Many Punjabi speakers call themselves Pakis, but they resent insults from Indians.

'We just don't like Indians, and they hate Pakis,' a 10-year-old boy said. No one had any strong criticism of the police, whose misfortune seems to have been to try to make peace between the two sides. Sgt Maudsley was, by common consent, 'a great bloke'. The gangfights came as less of a surprise to community leaders than the epilogue of full-blooded attacks on police. 'There are cultural differences between the groups,' a race relations worker in Blackburn said. 'Different languages are bound to create different cultures, and there have been tensions in the past, like when India and Pakistan were at war.'

Factional differences seem to have found convenience in ethnic diversity. But the area had kept well guarded its propensity to petrol bomb. 'I'm disturbed, shocked and amazed,' Adam Patel, chairman of the local Race Equality Council, said. Meetings were in progress throughout the area last night to discover exactly what happened, and why.

The youths have an easy explanation for the violence. They had taken enough, they were not going to be pushed around, and an attack on one is an attack on all. Petrol is at present enjoying one of its regular 'advertising' campaigns in the media as an affordable weapon, and it seemed natural for the Indian and Pakistani youths to launch a four-star attack.

None of the youths involved in Wednesday's fights seemed shocked the morning after. There had been a big fight, they grinned, and it was on again for last night. By late evening their prediction had come true: police made 30 arrests while trying to break up gangs of youths.

(Photographs omitted)

Leading article, page 20