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Big Ben falls silent

After more than 150 years as Britain's most famous timekeeper, London's Big Ben bell fell silent Monday for four years of repair work that will keep it quiet on all but a few special occasions.

The giant bell atop Parliament's clock tower sent a dozen deep bongs into a grey sky at noon, marking the hour as it has done almost continuously since 1859. It is not due to resume its regular duties until 2021.

Hundreds of parliamentary staff, journalists and lawmakers gathered in a courtyard under the Victorian clock tower to mark the moment, while hundreds more tourists and passers-by lined sidewalks and filled nearby Parliament Square, cellphones held aloft.

The mood was light-hearted — it is, after all, just a bell — but total silence fell as the first bong sounded. The crowd burst into cheers and applause as the last faded away, and bells at nearby Westminster Abbey pealed a noisy farewell to their neighbour.

The bell is being stilled to allow workers to carry out much-needed maintenance to the clock and clock tower without being deafened. But a handful of lawmakers have criticized the lengthy silence, calling Big Ben an important symbol of British democracy. Prime Minister Theresa May said last week that "it can't be right for Big Ben to be silent for four years."

In response to the criticism, House of Commons officials have said they will take another look at the repairs schedule once Parliament returns next month from its summer break.

Labour Party lawmaker Stephen Pound said it was sad to see the silencing of "the chimes of freedom."

"You don't know what you've got till it's gone," he said.



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