Labour NEC member held in Burnley violence

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The Independent Online

A member of Labour's National Executive Committee was arrested in Burnley last night during further skirmishes between police and a large group of Asian youths.

Shahid Malik, also the Commission for Racial Equality representative in the Lancashire mill town and son of the deputy mayor, was treated in hospital after being slightly injured during the clashes.

His father, Rafique Malik, condemned the arrest and said his son had tried to intervene in clashes between 200 Asian youths and officers following a weekend of racially-motivated violence. Before his arrest, Mr Malik said that Asian communities across northern England were "starting to feel under siege".

Police said 12 people were arrested last night but said Burnley was more peaceful than over the weekend.

The Home Secretary David Blunkett, is to investigate the common elements between the racial violence that hit Oldham and Leeds before erupting in the Lancashire mill town of Burnley over the weekend.

As the people of Burnley cleared up the shattered windows, brick missiles and burnt-out shops, the Home Office minister John Denham told the House of Commons that Mr Blunkett was "seeking out connections" between the towns' unrest, and hit out at the "exploitation" of underlying causes by far-right groups.

He said it appeared that in Burnley over the weekend a "series of individual incidents, apparently unrelated, sparked the trouble".Rafique Malik had insisted there was no link between Burnley, where the British National Party polled 11.2 per cent in the general election, and riots at Oldham last month, or Harehills, Leeds, 10 days later.

Mr Malik said that the Lancashire Constabulary's delay in attending a dispute between whites and Asians, in which an Asian taxi driver was smashed in the cheek with a hammer, was the catalyst for Saturday's disturbances involving more than 200 youths, some wielding baseball bats.

Rumours were rife yesterday that as many as 500 Asian people had driven from Rochdale into Burnley on Sunday, before the second of two nights of troubles in which a large group of white youths marched on the predominantly Asian Stoneyholme estate, police in riot gear were called and two pubs and five cars set ablaze. "You are bound to get people wanting to show support for families and friends under threat," Shahid Malik said before his arrest.

He also pointed to the arrests of people from Birmingham and Essex in the recent riots in Oldham – where the BNP polled 16 per cent – as evidence that the weekend's violence could become a "magnet" for far-right parties.

Bill Allott, 70, a retired ambulanceman, witnessed a crowd of 200 Asians, many with hammers, chased down his street by police before they attacked the Duke of York pub. "Suddenly the windows just blew out and flames went up the building," he said. "It was frightening."

The Shafis' store in Oxford Road at the other end of town had been looted and set ablaze, apparently by white rioters.

Peter Pike, MP for Burnley, said deep-rooted problems such as empty houses and poverty were at the heart of the problem and needed more than the "extremely minimal" resources available. He called for more power to be given to town halls to decide how to spend their budgets. Community leaders, council leaders and police met yesterday and agreed to set up a task force to look into the riot and its underlying causes.Three men arrested on Saturday in connection with the assault on the taxi driver have been bailed.

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