19 Kosovans held after Trafalgar Square battle

Police are holding 19 teenagers after three young men were stabbed in Trafalgar Square in the middle of the afternoon. Violence broke out when rival groups of Albanian-Kosovans, armed with knives and hockey sticks, began to fight in one of London's most popular tourist destinations.

Officers arrived at the scene on Thursday to discover running brawls between what is thought to have been Albanian-Kosovan gangs, gathered to "celebrate" the third anniversary of Kosovo's independence. The youngest of those arrested is a 13-year-old boy.

Emergency services took a 19-year-old man suffering four stab wounds to his head, arm and back, and an 18-year-old with two stab wounds to his chest, to different hospitals. A third victim, aged 19, took himself to hospital after being stabbed in his neck, back and leg. The first victim has been discharged but the other two men are in a stable but serious condition.

Groups of Albanian-Kosovan teenagers have met on Kosovo National Day as a "show of force" for the last couple of years. "It usually results only in fist fights rather than stabbings but it is hard to concede that this event was spontaneous because it seems that people came armed with necessary tools to commit a serious assault," said a source.

Scotland Yard insisted there had been no reason to expect such serious trouble. Superintendent Simon Ovens said: "We hadn't been notified of any planned events in Trafalgar Square so there was no expectation from the public. Our officers were on the scene extremely quickly. However, it is going to take some time for us to speak to them all and establish a clear picture of exactly what happened.

"Trafalgar Square is an incredibly busy place and I would urge anyone who was in the vicinity and may have seen something to come forward and talk to us. Their information could be vitally important in helping us to piece this incident together."

Luljetta Nuzi, project director for Shpresa, a group for Albanian speakers in the UK, said that the violence was a reminder of the work that needs to be done in addressing divisions within the expatriate community.

"It is very sad to hear these things are happening, when we are trying to integrate in the community," she said. "We know there are gangs of young people in Barking and Dagenham and we did some work with them previously. Unfortunately, there is not enough funding to continue the preventative work we were trying to do."

While teenage murders almost halved in London from 2008 to 2009, this week's stabbings are the latest in a series of knife attacks in London. Three teenagers have been stabbed to death in the capital so far this year.