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LONDON (Reuters) - With emotions running high and stalls bursting with produce, London's 1,000-year-old Borough Market re-opened on Wednesday for the first time since a deadly attack by Islamist extremists killed eight people.
Traders gathered for a minute's silence in honour of the victims of the June 3 attack, before fruit-and-veg stallholder Paul Wheeler rang the market bell, crying as he tugged the rope harder and harder.
"I was only supposed to ring it once, but once I started I couldn't stop. I just wanted to get the market back open," he told Reuters moments later, still visibly emotional.
"It's been really hard. Business-wise, we suffered, but emotionally, all of us here have been struggling with it. I'm just glad we're back open," he said.
Donald Hyslop, chairman of the market's board of trustees, was cheered loudly as he declared trade had resumed. London Mayor Sadiq Khan was in the crowd as he spoke.
"Strong and together, London is open. Borough Market is open," Hyslop said.
A warren of alleyways and streets nestled under a railway bridge and by the side of the medieval Southwark Cathedral, Borough Market is a foodie's paradise, with stalls selling a variety of specialties from around Britain and the world.
It is also a vibrant spot for socialising, with the surrounding streets full of pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants that were packed with people enjoying a balmy Saturday night out when the three attackers struck.
They drove a van into pedestrians on nearby London Bridge, killing three. They then ran into the maze of bustling streets, killing five people and injuring dozens by stabbing them and slashing their throats.
The rampage ended when the three attackers were shot dead at the scene by police. The market had remained shut since then, with forensic investigators at work and police standing guard.
For the tight-knit community of market traders, re-opening their stalls was a first step towards normality after a traumatic time.
"I’m so happy that we’re all here to keep going and carry on and to show that no matter what they do we’re still here. There’s always light after darkness," said Maria Moruzzi, who runs a cafe on the edge of the market.
She moved to the area as a child, in 1964, and her parents ran a local cafe. She and her sisters used to play in the market as children. For her, it felt as if the attack took place "in my front room".
Traders recounted how they had been let into the deserted market during the period of closure, under police escort, to inspect and clean their stalls and prepare for re-opening.
"We were allowed in very briefly to check that there wasn't any major damage and to deal with our stock, and it was very strange, very cold, to come into the empty market," said Charles Danjou, who runs The French Comte, a cheese stall.
"Today we're hoping we'll have a good Wednesday," he said, laying out an array of cheeses on the counter.
By lunchtime, the market was packed with customers, take-away food stalls were doing a brisk trade and the smells of everything from grilled sausages to Turkish coffee were filling the air.
"It will go back to normal," said Moruzzi. "We’re going to welcome everyone back. We’re here. And we’re going to go forward. Nothing’s going to shut us down."
Editing by Angus MacSwan