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Sodden solstice greets Stonehenge gathering

STONEHENGE, England (AP) -- Rain-sodden crowds welcomed a spectacularly wet summer solstice at Stonehenge in true British fashion Thursday: With stoicism and wit.

So bad was the downpour that even one of Britain's latter-day druids -- fixtures of the annual celebration -- was forced to seek refuge with journalists in a tent set up near the entrance.

"It's a wash," said King Arthur Pendragon, his fine white beard turned into a soggy silver sponge. "Literally."

English Heritage put the crowd at the summer festival at 14,500, well below figures which typically hover around 20,000.

But through the wind and rain, drummers inside the ancient stone circle kept up their thumping rhythm, new age pagans kept up their chaotic dance, and visitors kept up their sense of humor.

Summer solstice -- the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere -- has long drawn people to Stonehenge, a mysterious set of standing stones whose purpose remains a matter of conjecture.


Iran to be top topic during visit by Putin

JERUSALEM (AP) -- When Vladimir V. Putin visits Israel next week, the world may want to pay attention: The Iranian nuclear program will top the agenda -- and the steely Russian president, widely viewed as coddling the Iranians, may hold the key to avoiding another Middle East war.

With close ties to Iran and a vote on the U.N. Security Council, Russia could play a key role in the coming months in determining whether Israel decides to attack Iran's suspect nuclear program.

In Jerusalem, the commonly held view is that the reluctance of Russia and China to support a crippling regime of sanctions and pressure is emboldening the Iranians, decreasing the chances they will back down and increasing the chances for an attack of last resort.

Officials here have fueled speculation about Israeli attack plans by contending that Iran's movement of nuclear facilities into heavily fortified, underground bunkers will soon make the program immune to airstrikes. Putin can expect pressure to join the West in its crusade to halt the program.


Sect-related violence has killed 138 people

DAMATURU, Nigeria (AP) -- At least 138 people have died since Sunday in sect-related violence in Nigeria, officials say, as the government fails to corral rising sectarian attacks that have fanned religious tensions in Africa's most populous nation.

An email statement attributed to the radical Islamist sect Boko Haram and obtained by the Associated Press on Thursday said it launched multiple attacks against Christians in the city of Damaturu, which authorities say killed at least 40 people. And more deaths were reported in reprisal attacks.

"We assure all that the success of the Damaturu operation is really a sign that very soon Allah will give us the chance of overthrowing this unjust and heathen government and replacing it with an Islamic system which is just," the statement said.

It came two days after the group claimed responsibility for three church bombings in the religious flash-point state of Kaduna that left at least 21 dead, according to rescue officials. Pope Benedict XVI has appealed "to those responsible for the violence so that the spilling of blood of so many innocent (people) stops immediately."