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London carnival finale peaceful despite riot fears

01 september 2011, 12:15
Huge crowds partied in the streets of London Monday as the Notting Hill Carnival drew to a close with little sign of trouble despite fears of riots at Europe's biggest street festival, AFP reports.

The second day of festivities passed largely peacefully with 6,500 police officers, the biggest number in recent years at the Caribbean-themed extravaganza, on duty as spectators watched Samba-style dancers perform on floats.

However, the event was marred after a man was found in Ladbroke Grove late Monday with stab wounds to his abdomen and hand. He remained in a serious condition, but police said they were happy with the event's overall mood.

Monday, a public holiday, was the second and busiest day of the two-day festival which attracts around a million people, and there were fears gangs could hijack the event and go on the rampage in a repeat of this month's riots.

The frenzy of violence, which erupted in the north London district of Tottenham on August 6 before spreading across the capital and to other cities, were the worst riots in England since the 1980s and left five people dead.

"We are very pleased," police spokesman Steve Rodhouse told BBC television. "It's a great event for London. We want to showcase London to the world but equally we want to keep it safe."

Nevertheless, he added that police remained vigilant as there were gangs at the carnival intent on causing trouble.

Three men were held over the stabbing and police were also investigating a separate incident in which a person was badly injured after an object was thrown from a three-storey building.

Despite the stabbing, arrest figures were relatively low, with 132 detained on Monday and 82 the previous day for offences ranging from possession of drugs and weapons to theft, police said.

Cloudy weather did not deter hordes of party-goers from flooding the streets to cheer on dozens of floats and shimmering dancers in flamboyant, colourful outfits parading through the west London neighbourhood.

"It's wonderful," Francesca, 42, from French Guiana, told AFP.

"We were a bit frightened because of the riots but it is very safe, we are having a great time."

Revellers milled between the stalls and thumping sound systems, drinking, dancing, and tasting jerk chicken as the smells of open-cooked Caribbean food wafted through the air.

"It's a really good vibe, everyone's enjoying themselves," said Oliver Prennan, a 22-year-old student.

As the street-sweepers moved in to begin the clean-up operation late Monday, it appeared the carnival was to pass by without serious mass disorder, a huge relief for organisers.

Coming just three weeks after the riots and with a reputation as a magnet for troublemakers, many had feared this year's event would be axed.

But organisers refused to admit defeat, especially because the carnival was originally a positive response to rioting.

It was founded in 1964 following the disturbances in Notting Hill six years earlier that saw clashes between whites and newly arrived immigrants from the West Indies.

London mayor Boris Johnson said he was determined to make sure the party went ahead.

"I thought it was very important," he said. "Obviously there was quite a few people who wrote to me saying 'for heaven's sake, scrap it'.

"But we said 'no, that would be wrong, because that would be an admission of defeat after what happened earlier in the month'."

Police chiefs and organisers came to an agreement to allow the festival to go ahead -- including closing early at 7:00 pm (1800 GMT) to allow revellers to disperse before darkness fell.

By Quentin Leboucher

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