Businesses have closed early in London, as rioting, violence and looting continue to spread across the city. Masked youths have set fire to a number of buildings and business, as well as ransacked buses and destroyed cars in various neighborhoods.

The riots started in Tottenham on Saturday, but have since moved to a number of peripheral London areas, including Hackney, where looters broke into shoe and electronic stores; Peckham, where a store was set ablaze; and Lewisham, where people attacked police officers.

The neighborhoods most affected by the turmoil are traditionally low-income, multi-ethnic areas. Similar neighborhoods have been preparing in advance of potential violence, including Stratford, Clapton and Islington, where businesses closed early and pulled down metal barricades. The barricades can only do so much, however, and in Hackney, people ripped though the metal shutters of a Carhartt clothing store.

In a new development, riots have broken out in the city of Birmingham, about 120 miles north-west of the London. Police said that several stores and a shopping center were attacked.

Rioters seem to be targeting retails stores in particular. This fact has led many commentators in Great Britain to blame economic tension and massive unemployment among the poor -- especially poor youths -- for the events. So far, the only area of central London that was attacked was Oxford Circus, tellingly one of the most famous shopping areas in the city.

Moreover, high streets have been the focal point for riots in all of the neighborhoods in question. So far, officials have estimated that the damage in Tottenham alone has reached about 227,000 pounds (roughly $370,000).

Reports coming in from London are painting a frightening picture. According to eye witnesses, some people have been attacking city buses, one of which was set on fire.

"We are getting growing reports of bus drivers being caught in the middle of the unrest breaking out across London. We are extremely concerned for the safety of these workers and their passengers," stated Peter Kavanagh, a union representative for Transport for London.

Other reports say that youths have been bringing weapons onto the subway. They were headed to join riots already in progress, but terrified commuters nonetheless. Bus and train stations, as well as roads, have been closed in various places around the city.

A total of 215 people have been arrested so far and 27 charged. Police reported at least 26 officers injured.

"The violence we've seen, the looting we've seen, the thuggery we've seen, this is sheer criminality... These people will be brought to justice. They will be made to face the consequences of their actions," said Home Secretary Theresa May.