Prejudice and petty jealousy sparked race clashes

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The Independent Online

The bashed Hyundai with shattered windows and torn-off wing mirrors was one of several vandalised cars to be spotted on streets patrolled by police vans and riot officers on the Caia Park estate yesterday.

It was only the spilled contents of the glove box that betrayed the significance of this particular wreck - at least a dozen tapes of Iraqi Kurdish music, mementoes of an abandoned land with titles such as Ey Zehid and Zeki Muren.

Amid the slashed upholstery and twisted doors, the cassettes had been left untouched by attackers in a frenzy of racist violence that has convulsed this deprived corner of Wrexham, north Wales, for the past two nights.

"Kefn", a brawny and sunburnt man who lives opposite the car wreck, said he had not seen the attack. But, he added: "No one would want them tapes - they're gibberish, they're not from here."

The car belonged to a young Iraqi Kurdish refugee who had fled the regime of Saddam Hussein and was last night fighting for his life in intensive care in a British hospital. He was taken there after he became involved in a fight on Sunday evening. There were unconfirmed reports last night that the man, who has not been named, had been transferred to a specialist neurological unit at Walton Hospital in Liverpool after his condition deteriorated.

How he was injured remained the subject of rumour in Caia Park, a sprawling estate of Forties and Sixties council houses in central Wrexham. Up to 200 rioters bombarded police with rocks and petrol bombs there on Monday night, 24 hours after violent clashes between up to 20 Iraqi Kurds and a group of local men.

One of the few clear facts was that the Kurdish owner of the wrecked car, a man in his 20s, had left his home in the Y Wern block of flats on Queen's Park, a neat row of terraced houses facing a small park, at about 8pm on Sunday and walked towards the Red Dragon Pub, less than a hundred yards away.

Somewhere near the pub he was involved in a fight with another man, which left him lying unconscious and with serious head injuries. Witnesses said the two men had previously been involved in a row over mobile phones.

Jessica Tandy, 25, a regular at the Red Dragon, was stood yesterday outside the boarded windows of the pub, which has been abandoned by its publican. She said: "There had been stupid comments in the past, just slagging each other off across the street. I can't believe it's ended up with this, I thought it was boys being boys."

Whatever the cause of the brawl, its consequences were immediate and far reaching.

Within minutes, a group of about 20 Iraqi Kurds had gathered close to the Red Dragon. Some witnesses claimed that the Kurds had attacked the pub itself before being confronted by white locals drinking inside. Others said the Kurds had remonstrated with a group of local men before fighting broke out, leading to the arrest of nine people on Sunday night.

On Monday night, attempts to calm the situation by police and community leaders failed. At 8.50pm, about 150 to 200 youths and older men confronted police around the pub and surrounding streets.

A crowd gathered outside Y Wern, throwing rocks through the windows of the home of the injured Kurd. Several other refugees left before the mob turned on the Hyundai. A lump of concrete lying in the footwell of the rear passenger seat bore testimony to the ferocity of the assault.

A further seven people were arrested as North Wales Police, one of the country's smallest forces, called reinforcements from Merseyside and West Mercia until the violence abated in the small hours.

Community leaders admitted that what had until a few days ago seemed to be a successful effort to welcome and integrate Wrexham's quota of 170 refugees and asylum seekers was rapidly unravelling.

Caia Park is currently home to about 30 refugees, whose applications for asylum have been granted. Wrexham Borough Council, which temporarily rehoused many of them away from the estate, said that none of its 80 current asylum seekers - from countries including Iraq, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and the Ivory Coast - in the town of 120,000 people, were living on the estate.

Yet the talk on its streets, where boarded tenement blocks sit beside immaculately kept gardens, was full of anger that "they" were getting better treatment and the authorities were overseeing an invasion by leering young men who take homes and jobs.

Harriet Vine, 27, said: "Some of them have been antagonising us, although some do try to fit in. It is the Government which is to blame - they are making us hate these refugees because of the preferential treatment they get."

They were sentiments lost on Kawl Rashid, 27, who fled his home in Y Wern, just as he had fled Iraq after his parents were executed by Saddam's regime. He said: "I am frightened to walk about on the streets and I find it hard to sleep at night because I do not know what I wake up to. I work 12-hour shifts and when I walk home I am too tired to get caught up in hating people. I would like to tell everyone in Wrexham that we are safe people."

The Crown Prosecution Service said there had been "clear racial overtones" in the violence as three men, aged between 31 and 38, appeared at Flintshire Magistrates' Court charged with violent disorder. Of seven people facing prosecution, three are Iraqi Kurds and four are local white men.

Aled Roberts,the new mayor of Wrexham, said: "There are problems in Caia Park, but we need to sit down and talk about them. These people are just destroying their own community."

But a spokesman for the British National Party told the Wrexham Evening newspaper: "This is not a problem of our making but we will be coming to Wrexham to give people the chance to vote for the BNP and have a political solution to this. So watch this space."

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