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10 July 1999
Summer solstice clash at Stonehenge

New Age travellers invaded Stonehenge on June 21st, spoiling Summer Solstice celebrations before British riot police moved in to clear the ancient stone circle and arrested 22 people.
      Under cover of darkness, hundreds of travellers stormed through the fence surrounding the prehistoric monument and police in riot gear, backed by dogs and horses, responded by evicting some 1,000 people from the site. They literally trampled down the fence and ran into the stones, jumping over them, sitting on top, hurling all sorts of objects at police, said a spokeswoman for Wiltshire police in southwest England. They were throwing all kinds of things and we believe there has been some damage to the stones themselves, she said.
      There is a history of violent clashes between police and New Age travellers, whose alternative lifestyle often leads to mass congregations at summer festivals, ecological protests and anti-authority demonstrations. The travellers have been angered by tough new laws that enable police to crack down on mass gatherings in the name of maintaining public order. They believe police use the laws to victimise them and punish them for leading a non-conformist life.
      Police, since the 1980's, have banned revelers from holding solstice ceremonies at the ancient ring of stones. But last year, for the first time in a decade, the druids were allowed to gather inside the ring to mark the longest day of the year. English Heritage had believed that limited access would help defuse tension and prevent some of the trouble seen in recent years. However, the storming of the circle, which had been signalled in underground magazines and on the internet, forced the 150 people allowed onto the ancient site in Wiltshire, including Druids and astrologers, to abandon their solstice rituals.
      English Heritage director of Stonehenge, Clews Everard, said a small group of people had ruined the organisers' hard work. These people were not celebrating the solstice, she said. What they were doing had nothing to do with spirituality, they're just a minority that has ruined it for the majority.
      There's a disappointment and also a great sadness, Emma Restell-Orr, joint chief druid of the British Order of Druids, told BBC radio. The greatest sadness is perhaps seeing people standing and dancing on top of the stones. It's not only dangerous for them, it's desecration of a sacred site.
      Druids, a pre-Christian religion of the Celts, have long been drawn to Stonehenge, one of a number of prehistoric monuments on Salisbury Plain.

Sources: Associated Press, BBC News, CNN News, Reuters (21 June 99)

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