British Prime Minister David Cameron, facing a defining crisis of his premiership, promised on Thursday to crack down on street gangs as a national priority and said rioters behind Britain's worst violence in decades would be hunted and punished.
The fight-back has well and truly begun, he told an emergency session of parliament, acknowledging that police numbers and tactics had been inadequate at the outset of the violence which spread from London to other major cities.
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, the PM said.
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. Skirting the hot issue of police funding cuts, Cameron authorized more power for the police, including the right to demand the removal of masks or face coverings if their wearers were suspected of crime.
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 troops for secondary roles in future unrest to free up frontline police.
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 said.
He 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 dollars), the Association of British Insurers estimated.
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.
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.
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.