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29 June 2009
Pagans, partygoers greet solstice at Stonehenge

Pagans and partygoers drummed, danced or gyrated in hula hoops to stay awake through the night, around 36,500 people greeted the summer solstice at the ancient stone circle of Stonehenge (Wiltshire, England). Despite fears of trouble because of the record-sized crowd, police said the annual party at the mysterious monument was mostly peaceful.
     The prehistoric monument in southern England is the site of an annual night-long party - or religious ceremony, depending on perspective - marking the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. Warm weather and the fact that this year's solstice fell on a weekend helped draw a record crowd. "There has been a great atmosphere and where else would you want to be on midsummer's day?" said Peter Carson of English Heritage, the body in charge of Stonehenge.
     Stonehenge, which sits on Salisbury Plain about 80 miles (130 kilometers) southwest of London, is one of Britain's most popular tourist attractions, visited by more than 750,000 people a year. The solstice is one of the few times during the year that visitors can get close enough to touch the rocks.
     English Heritage closed the site at the solstice after clashes between police and revelers in 1985. It began allowing full access again in 2000 and the celebrations have been largely peaceful. Police said they had made about 30 arrests for  minor public disorder and drug-related offences. Sam Edwards, from Wiltshire Police, said: "We are very pleased everything went to plan. The atmosphere has been very good, especially around the stones. Most people have been very co-operative with us and very understanding of the reasons for our presence." With problems at a minimum, the crowd reverted to a carnival atmosphere. Some revelers used hula hoops to stay awake until the sunrise; other simply clapped and danced among the stones. An all-night party on a smaller scale took place a few miles from Stonehenge at the Avebury stone circle.

Sources: Associated Press (21 June 2009), The Herald (29 June 2009)

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