London gears up for Notting Hill carnival, in shadow of Grenfell Tower

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Notting Hill carnival: celebrating Afro-Caribbean culture
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Notting Hill carnival: celebrating Afro-Caribbean culture
Revellers take part in the Notting Hill Carnival in London, Britain August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh
Revellers pose with members of the London Fire Brigade at the Notting Hill Carnival in London, Britain August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh
Revellers take part in the Notting Hill Carnival in London, Britain August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh
Revellers take part in the Notting Hill Carnival in London, Britain August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh
Revellers observe their own minutes silence in memory of the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire during Notting Hill Carnival in London, Britain August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh
Revellers take part in the Notting Hill Carnival in London, Britain August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh
Revellers take part in the Notting Hill Carnival in London, Britain August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh
Revellers take part in the Notting Hill Carnival in London, Britain August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh
Revellers take part in the Notting Hill Carnival in London, Britain August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh
Revellers take part in the Notting Hill Carnival in London, Britain August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh
Revellers take part in the Notting Hill Carnival in London, Britain August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh
Notting Hill Carnival main parade attracted thousands to the streets of Lodnon, UK on August 28, 2017. Europes biggest street festival is full of colours, music and dance. (Photo by Dominika Zarzycka/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 28: Performers and revellers make their way home at the end of the Notting Hill Carnival on August 28, 2017 in London, England. The Notting Hill Carnival has taken place since 1966 and now has an attendance of over two million people. (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 28: General view at the Red Bull Music Academy x Mangrove float at Notting Hill Carnival on August 28, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for RedBull)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - AUGUST 28: The grand finale (Monday Parade) of the Notting Hill Carnival, during which performers present their costumes and dance to the rhythms of the mobile sound systems or steel bands along the streets of West London August 28, 2017 in London, England. Hundreds of thousands revelers take part in Notting Hill Carnival, Europe's largest street party and a celebration of Caribbean traditions and the capital's cultural diversity. PHOTOGRAPH BY Wiktor Szymanowicz / Barcroft Images London-T:+44 207 033 1031 E:hello@barcroftmedia.com - New York-T:+1 212 796 2458 E:hello@barcroftusa.com - New Delhi-T:+91 11 4053 2429 E:hello@barcroftindia.com www.barcroftimages.com (Photo credit should read Wiktor Szymanowicz / Barcroft Im / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - AUGUST 28: The grand finale (Monday Parade) of the Notting Hill Carnival, during which performers present their costumes and dance to the rhythms of the mobile sound systems or steel bands along the streets of West London August 28, 2017 in London, England. Hundreds of thousands revelers take part in Notting Hill Carnival, Europe's largest street party and a celebration of Caribbean traditions and the capital's cultural diversity. PHOTOGRAPH BY Wiktor Szymanowicz / Barcroft Images London-T:+44 207 033 1031 E:hello@barcroftmedia.com - New York-T:+1 212 796 2458 E:hello@barcroftusa.com - New Delhi-T:+91 11 4053 2429 E:hello@barcroftindia.com www.barcroftimages.com (Photo credit should read Wiktor Szymanowicz / Barcroft Im / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - AUGUST 28: The grand finale (Monday Parade) of the Notting Hill Carnival, during which performers present their costumes and dance to the rhythms of the mobile sound systems or steel bands along the streets of West London August 28, 2017 in London, England. Hundreds of thousands revelers take part in Notting Hill Carnival, Europe's largest street party and a celebration of Caribbean traditions and the capital's cultural diversity. PHOTOGRAPH BY Wiktor Szymanowicz / Barcroft Images London-T:+44 207 033 1031 E:hello@barcroftmedia.com - New York-T:+1 212 796 2458 E:hello@barcroftusa.com - New Delhi-T:+91 11 4053 2429 E:hello@barcroftindia.com www.barcroftimages.com (Photo credit should read Wiktor Szymanowicz / Barcroft Im / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
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LONDON (Reuters) - It is one of London's most colorful and noisy events - a weekend carnival to celebrate Afro-Caribbean culture in what has become Europe's biggest street festival.

But this year, the processions at Notting Hill carnival will fall silent when the floats, dancers and singers pass Grenfell Tower, charred after a fire killed at least 80 people in what has become a symbol of the stark divide between rich and poor.

The tower stands less that half a mile from the route of the procession and the local community is determined to remember the victims at the two-day carnival, starting on Sunday.

But as well as sadness there is anger directed at the local authorities and the government after fire raced through the block and trapped dozens living in its upper floors in June.

Some fear that tempers could boil over at the festival, but the local community is determined it should be a peaceful vigil.

"I am pleased it's going ahead. Carnival is this community and this community is carnival," said Zoe LeVack, a youth worker and co-founder of Kids on the Green, which provided activities and mental health support in the aftermath of the fire.

"Grenfell is an outrage ... and the community is very angry. So if anything, the carnival going ahead is a celebration of the people whose lives have been lost, but it's also making a stand," she told Reuters.

The carnival will see its usual mix of eclectic costumes, decorated floats and exuberant dancers, but it will fall silent for a minute on both days. Visitors have been told to avoid taking shortcuts across the estate where the tower stands.

"Kids on the Green" are using a samba float for their tribute to Grenfell's victims, while revelers at the carnival have been encouraged to wear an item of green clothing in memory of the victims of the fire.

 

COMMUNITY SUPPORT

The blaze prompted widespread support for the community, but also anger over accusations of mismanagement by the local authorities. Protesters stormed the council building in the days after the tragedy, and the borough council leader resigned.

The council was criticized by locals and politicians for its slow and ineffective response to the fire, while many accuse the authority, which administers one of Britain's wealthiest areas, of having turned its back on social housing.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Theresa May said she had a "dignified and very respectful" meeting with residents of Grenfell Tower. But mistrust of authority remains, and is being intensified by a police crackdown on knife and drug crime.

London's Metropolitan Police force has been criticized for linking the carnival to a seizure of a kilogram of uncut heroin in Catford, which is on the other side of London to Notting Hill.

"How many drugs did you lot seize in the run up to Glastonbury or we only doing tweets like this for black events?" rapper Stormzy, who appeared on a charity single to raise money for the victims of the fire, said on Twitter.

The Met said it had made 656 arrests in the run-up to the event, but said the measures were proportionate and supported by the community to ensure a smooth carnival.

"We have listened," Chief Superintendent Robyn Williams told reporters, adding that officers had walked around the route of the carnival with local residents and survivors.

LeVack said she also believed that the local community would want to mark the event peacefully.

"Nobody in the community wants any trouble," LeVack said. "I believe any trouble, if it is started, would be quashed very quickly by the community itself, as opposed to ignited and encouraged."

 

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Alison Williams)

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