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Troop force tripled in Ferguson as Obama condemns violence

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More than 2,000 soldiers were ordered into the riot-torn US town of Ferguson on Tuesday, as President Barack Obama condemned violence which erupted after a grand jury chose not to charge a white police officer who shot dead an unarmed black teen.

[FERGUSON] More than 2,000 soldiers were ordered into the riot-torn US town of Ferguson on Tuesday, as President Barack Obama condemned violence which erupted after a grand jury chose not to charge a white police officer who shot dead an unarmed black teen.

After a night of racially-charged unrest following Monday's decision, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon said the National Guard force in the Ferguson area would be tripled to 2,200 in a bid to quell a repeat of the looting and arson.

"Lives and property must be protected. This community deserves to have peace," Mr Nixon said, as fury mounted nationwide and fresh protests took place in several cities.

Mr Obama decried the violence as "criminal", calling for those responsible to be prosecuted while acknowledging the deep-rooted frustrations of minorities who felt they were unfairly treated by police.

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"There are productive ways of responding and expressing those frustrations and there are destructive ways of responding," Mr Obama said.

"Burning buildings, torching cars, destroying property, putting people at risk. That's destructive and there's no excuse for it. Those are criminal acts."

Mr Obama's comments came as lawyers for the family of slain youth Michael Brown denounced the prosecutor whose grand jury hearing found that police officer Darren Wilson had killed the 18-year-old in self-defence.

"This process is broken. This process should be indicted," Brown family lawyer Benjamin Crump told a news conference.

Mr Crump criticised the way Wilson had not been cross-examined when he appeared before the grand jury, which decided not to indict him over the August 9 shooting.

But in his first televised comments since the incident, Wilson told ABC News he had feared for his life during the confrontation with Brown, believing the teen was attempting to wrestle his gun away from him to shoot him.

"I can feel his hand trying to come over my hand and get inside the trigger guard. And try to shoot me with my own gun," Wilson said.

The officer insisted race had not played a part in the shooting.

Asked if he believed he would have acted the same way if Brown was white, Wilson responded: "No question." The police officer said he would not be haunted by his actions.

"I don't think it's haunting. It's always going to be something that happened," he told ABC News, adding that his conscience was clear because "I know I did my job right."

Civil rights firebrand Al Sharpton said the Brown case renewed a nationwide fight for greater police accountability.

"This is not a Ferguson problem ... This is a problem all over the country," Mr Sharpton said. "We may have lost one round but the fight is not over. They have broken our hearts, but not our backs." Protests against the events in Ferguson rippled across the country on Tuesday, with demonstrations under way in St Louis, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Atlanta.

Separate protests flared meanwhile in Cleveland, Ohio, following the fatal shooting by police of a 12-year-old black boy holding a replica gun at the weekend.

Despite appeals by Brown's family for calm in Ferguson on Monday, protests rapidly degenerated into looting, arson and running street battles between police and stone-throwers.

Protesters shot at police, robbed locally-owned stores and set cars and buildings ablaze in what police said was the worst violence since Wilson shot Brown.

Ferguson mayor James Knowles meanwhile declined to comment Tuesday on the future of Wilson, saying only he remained on administrative leave.

"His current employment status has not changed," Knowles said.

The August shooting sparked weeks of protest and a nationwide debate about military-style police tactics and race relations.

The Ferguson grand jury concluded Wilson had acted lawfully in firing 12 shots at Brown after he first reached into the officer's car to grapple with him, then turned on him as he gave chase.

Ferguson is a mainly black suburb with a mainly white police force. Brown's death, the aggressive police response to initial protests, and now the result of the grand jury hearing have stirred racial tensions.

The town's African American community of 21,000 has been on edge since the shooting, and residents complain of years of racial prejudice and heavy-handed police tactics.

As riot officers responded to protesters with tear gas, batons and flash grenades, Pat Bailey, a retiree from St Louis in her 60s, said she had expected the decision.

"I've lived long enough to know that African Americans are not considered human beings," Ms Bailey said.

AFP

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