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Record number of Valentine's weddings keeps Bangkok, Scotland hopping

With Valentine's Day falling on a Saturday for the first time in 11 years, a record number of couples scheduled weddings in the small Scottish town of Gretna Green - once a haven for elopers.

"It was just absolutely beautiful and the fact it was on Valentine's Day made it perfect," said Jean Waddell, 40. She and her fiance, Gary Hughes, also 40, were among the first of 66 couples to marry at Gretna Green, a small town on the border with England.In the 17th and 18th centuries, hundreds of young English couples, escaping wrathful parents, slipped across the border to wed at Gretna Green under less strict Scottish laws.

For example, 16-year-olds could marry without parental permission - when the age in England was 21. Anyone could officiate, and it was usually the blacksmith.

Now, both the Scots and the English need a proper registrar or a church minister. And on Saturday, several teams of registrars were in town to perform the ceremonies at the registry office, a hotel called the Old Blacksmith's Shop, and Old Toll Barr, the first house on the border.

Meanwhile in Asia, romance wasn't immune from that continent's economic crisis on Valentine's Day.

A record 1,500 couples registered their marriages in Bangkok's "district of love" Saturday to mark Valentine's Day, but many drastically scaled back celebrations because of current hard times.

"We won't have any celebration this evening," said police Lance Cpl. Chakrarin Rattana, 30. "We can't afford a honeymoon, and I'm only taking a half-day off."

Chakrarin was legally registering his 10-year union with Jiraporn Rohwawat, 29, at a hotel serving as a vast marriage bureau for one day, enabling couples to have the neighborhood - Bang Rak, or love district - stamped on their marriage documents.

Two floors of the Narai Hotel were packed with couples who patiently waited their turns in rows of chairs. Many had been wed in religious ceremonies years ago, but had waited for a Valentine's Day to make it official.

Bang Rak registered 500 marriages on Valentine's Day in 1996 and 1,000 last year. Part of the 1998 increase may be attributed to the economic crisis rocking Thailand and other former Asian miracle economies.

Fewer Thais are traveling abroad for weddings or honeymoons, since the local currency, the baht, has tumbled and made travel much more expensive.

Others are paring wedding festivities. Many couples said they would celebrate only with family, rather than the customary hundreds of people.

Natthaporn Ruengyudhtapakorn, the district office's deputy administrator, said that the hotel was drafted into service because the tiny district office can't handle the Feb. 14 crowd.

Bangkok also has a Bang Plad - district of separation. More than 10 couples were expected to register there Saturday for divorce.