Riots broke out in north London on Saturday night as a peaceful march to denounce the police shooting of a young man erupted into vandalism and looting.

Two police patrol cars, a van, a building and a double-decker bus were torched in the neighbourhood of Tottenham, as rioters clashed with officers in front of the local precinct and stores were looted and set ablaze.

The melee followed a peaceful march to the station to protest against the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan, 29, a father of four who was riding in a taxi on Thursday when he apparently became involved in a gunfight with police. 

"It's really bad," said local resident David Akinsanya, 46. "There are two police cars on fire. I'm feeling unsafe."

Stores looted

Sirens could be heard across the city as authorities rushed reinforcements to the scene. Shop windows in Tottenham were smashed as residents looted stores, pushing shopping carts full of stolen goods down the street.

Youths used aerosol cans to set fire to store shelves of a shop, while other rioters deployed poles, shopping carts and plastic storage bins to build barriers in the street as they confronted police.

Officers in riot gear and on horseback pushed up against the demonstrators. Akinsanya put the number of demonstrators at between 400 and 500. Police said about 300 people had gathered.

Miles from the tourist hotspots of the central capital, Tottenham is the poorest neighbourhood in London and the eighth-poorest in the country. Nearly half of all children live in poverty, according to campaigners.

History of racial tension

The area is very diverse and home to one of the capital's biggest black populations. The area also has a history of racial tension and anti-police feeling.

In 1985 Tottenham was the scene of a deadly riot after a local woman suffered a fatal heart stoppage when her home was raided by the police. The Tottenham riots were among the most violent in the country's history, with one officer stabbed to death as he tried to protect firefighters and nearly 60 others hospitalized.

London last saw large-scale rioting in December, when thousands of students took to the streets to denounce drastic university tuition hikes and some small groups among them clashed with police.

With files from The Associated Press