* Cameron pledges tough action to quell unrest
* Says targeting street gangs a national priority
* Acknowledges police initially caught on hop
* Police reinforcements keep London relatively peaceful
(Recasts, adds more Cameron quotes, background)
By Matt Falloon
LONDON, Aug 11 Prime Minister David Cameron
vowed on Thursday to hunt down the street gangsters and
opportunistic looters he blamed for Britain's worst violence in
decades, and acknowledged that police tactics had failed at the
start of the rioting.
"The fightback has well and truly begun," the Conservative
leader, grappling with a defining crisis of his 15-month-old
premiership, told an emergency session of parliament.
"As to the lawless minority, the criminals who've taken what
they can get, I say this: We will track you down, we will find
you, we will charge you, we will punish you. You will pay for
what you have done," Cameron said.
Closed-circuit TV footage would be used to identify
culprits, he said, vowing to let "no phoney human rights
concerns" about publishing the pictures obstruct the effort.
British leaders are concerned that the rioting could damage
confidence in the economy and in London, one of the world's
biggest financial centres and venue for next year's Olympics.
Cameron is under pressure to ease austerity plans, toughen
policing and do more for inner-city communities, even as
economic malaise grips a nation whose social and perhaps racial
tensions exploded in four nights of bewildering mayhem, first in
the capital and then other major cities.
The initial police response was inadequate, Cameron said.
"There were simply far too few police deployed onto the streets.
And the tactics they were using weren't working."
Defending planned police funding cuts against criticism from
opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband, Cameron also proposed more
police powers, including the right to demand that people remove
face coverings if they are suspected of crime.
Hugh Orde, President of the Association of Chief Police
Officers, said this week a 20 percent cut in police funding over
the next few years until 2015, planned by the
Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, would pose great
"I do sense without question resentment (among police
officers) that they are now being portrayed in the routine as
corrupt, unprofessional and need sorting out," he told Reuters.
Cameron, who has already authorised police to use baton
rounds and water cannon where necessary, said he would also
explore curbs on the use of social media tools if these were
being used to plot "violence, disorder and criminality".
The British leader said he would keep a higher police
presence of 16,000 officers on London streets through the
weekend and would consider calling in the army for secondary
roles in future unrest to free up frontline police.
He denied that deprivation had caused the problem, saying:
"This is not about poverty, it's about culture. A culture that
glorifies violence, shows disrespect to authority, and says
everything about rights but nothing about responsibilities."
Cameron promised to compensate people whose property was
damaged by rioters, even if they were uninsured. The riots will
cost insurers more than 200 million pounds ($320 million), the
Association of British Insurers estimated.
PUBLIC FURY OVER LOOTING
Many Britons were appalled at the scenes on their streets,
from the televised mugging of an injured Malaysian teenager to a
Polish woman photographed leaping from a burning building, as
well as the looting of anything from baby clothes to TV sets.
But occupying the moral high ground is tricky in a country
where some lawmakers and policemen have been embroiled in
expenses and bribery scandals, and top bankers take huge bonuses
even as the taxpayer bails out financial institutions.
Cameron had ordered a rare recall of parliament from its
summer recess to debate the unrest which flared first in north
London after police shot dead an Afro-Caribbean man. That
disturbance then mutated into widespread looting and violence.
The prime minister said criminal street gangs were at the
heart of the violence. "Territorial, hierarchical and incredibly
violent, they are mostly composed of young boys, mainly from
dysfunctional homes," he added.
Arguing that police, local government and voluntary workers
needed to work together to stop inner-city street gangs, as they
had in American cities such as Boston, he said: "I want this to
be a national priority."
Cameron, who waited two days before returning from holiday
to deal with the crisis, has denied the unrest was linked to
planned government spending cuts, mostly not yet implemented.
But community leaders say inequality, cuts to public
services and youth unemployment also fed into the violence in
London, Birmingham, Manchester and other multi-ethnic cities.
As the clear-up proceeds, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat
coalition government must find quick fixes to avoid further
unrest while also addressing longer-term problems.
London police staged new raids on apartments on Thursday
recovering looted designer clothes and iPods.
A surge in police numbers helped calm streets on Wednesday
night, but previous episodes of often unchecked disorder have
embarrassed the authorities and exhausted emergency services.
Businessmen and residents had come together to protect their
areas. Police in some areas complained vigilantes were only
complicating their task and asked people to stay at home.
Police have arrested more than 1,200 people across England,
filling cells and forcing courts to work through the night to
process hundreds of cases. Among those charged were a teaching
assistant, a charity worker and an 11-year-old boy.
The local council in Lewisham, south London, sent out a text
message to residents reading: "Do you know where your children
are?" -- although in some cases parents had joined the looting
alongside their offspring.
Cameron's view of the rioters as thrill-seeking thugs who
are indicative of a breakdown in Britain's social fabric and
morals has struck a chord with many people.
Others point to chronic tensions between police and youth, a
dearth of opportunities for children from disadvantaged areas
and visible inequalities where the wealthy often live in elegant
houses just yards away from run-down city estates.
Social strains have grown in Britain for some time, with the
economy struggling to clamber out of an 18-month recession, one
in five young people out of work and high inflation squeezing
incomes and hitting the poor hardest.
The crisis has also exposed Britain to opportunistic attack
or ridicule from countries stung by frequent Western criticism
of their human rights records and who now scent hypocrisy.
Iran's hardline Kayhan newspaper likened the British riots
to Arab protests against autocrats, saying the "tumult against
illegitimate rule ... has found its way to the heart of Europe".
State media in Libya have also depicted the British unrest
as legitimate protests born of social deprivation.
Libyan state television said Cameron was using Irish and
Scottish "mercenaries" to tame the riots in English cities.
($1 = 0.619 British Pounds)
(Additional reporting by Adrian Croft, writing by Alistair
Lyon, editing by Peter Millership)