LONDON  - British Prime Minister David Cameron was to hold crisis talks on Tuesday after three nights of riots, looting and arson by masked, hooded youths that wrecked shopping streets in many parts of London and spread to other cities.

Neighborhoods across the capital faced a massive clean-up of smashed glass, bricks, bottles and gutted buildings as police reinforcements reclaimed the streets from the youths.

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Politicians and police blamed the riots - the worst in Britain for decades - on criminals and opportunistic hooligans.

But residents in affected areas and some commentators attributed the unrest to local tensions and anger over economic hardship in a city where the gap between the haves and have-nots is growing.

The riots broke out amid deepening gloom in Britain, with the economy struggling to grow while the government is imposing deep public spending cuts and tax rises brought in to help eliminate a budget deficit that peaked at more than 10 percent of GDP.

They will also show an ugly side of London to the rest of the world less than a year before it hosts the 2012 Olympic Games, an event which organizers hope will showcase a dynamic, prosperous and cosmopolitan city.

Police said they had arrested 334 people in London and about 100 in Birmingham in the English Midlands. Violence also broke out in Bristol in the southwest and the northwest port of Liverpool.

At one point, the London fire brigade said it was running out of vehicles to tackle fires started by the rioters and police said they had called in 1,700 reinforcements to help London police cope with fast-moving groups of looters.

Cameron broke off his holiday in Italy on Monday to fly home. He was due to chair a meeting of Cobra, the government's crisis committee, to work out a strategy to prevent more violence and consider why the riots broke out and spread so fast, taking the authorities by surprise.

Some commentators have blamed the rioting partly on cuts in social services being imposed as a result of the government's tough austerity policies to reduce a large budget deficit.

Looters hail from areas of high unemployment

Many looters were from areas of high unemployment and said they felt alienated from society.

Hooded youths in Hackney pushed burning rubbish bins down a street towards police on Monday, laughing as they ran back when police charged them. Others smashed their way into a shop and ran off clutching bottles of whisky and beer.

Reuters witnesses saw similar scenes in Woolwich, Clapham in the south and Ealing in the west. In Ealing, one resident told Reuters about 150 hooded youths had walked down his road smashing car windows in a display of "mindless vandalism".

"It's very sad to see...But kids have got no work, no future and the cuts have made it worse. These kids are from another generation to us and they just don't care," said Hackney electrician Anthony Burns, 39.

"You watch. It's only just begun."

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