Hundreds storm Stonehenge site

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NEW YORK -- A rampage by some 400 people who toppled the fence around Stonehenge and illegally entered the stone circle ruined summer solstice ceremonies at the ancient site and might lead to more restricted access for visitors, officials in London said.

The group, known in Britain as "New Age travelers," stormed the circle just before dawn on June 21, drawing police in riot gear to the bucolic hillside that is home to the 3,500-year-old standing stones, located about an hour's drive from London.

The mob prevented groups of druids and pagans, who had permission to enter the circle to welcome the dawn of the longest day of the year, from carrying out solstice ceremonies, said a spokeswoman for English Heritage, the government agency responsible for Stonehenge.

This was the first solstice in a decade that police did not impose a four-mile-radius no-access zone around the stones, and officials said the violent action by the group was likely to prompt the reinstatement of the no-access policy for future solstices.

About 1,000 people had gathered within the zone to watch the dawn, reports estimated. The spokeswoman said that, following the riot, Stonehenge was closed for one day while the fence was repaired and the area was cleaned of debris.

"Several hundred people, who I can only describe as trouble-makers and rabble, tore down the fence and occupied the circle for a couple of hours, climbing on the stones, and yelling and throwing things at police. They had no real interest in Stonehenge," she said, adding that there was no damage to the stones.

Officials said two police officers were injured and 23 people were arrested in the melee. Other groups that had obtained permission to access the stone circle in the days following the solstice were allowed in as scheduled. Stonehenge was reopened to the public on June 23.

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