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Countdown begins for Bush inauguration

Countdown begins for Bush inauguration

In less than a week the nation's capital will become George W. Bush country and, in the political catch phrase of the moment, the city is preparing for the event big time.

As it has every four years for the last two centuries, Washington, D.C., will hold its most important official function on Saturday - the swearing in of the president of the United States.

In an interview with The New York Times published in its Sunday edition, Bush said he hoped to keep his Inaugural Address to just 12 minutes, based on the message that "we can be a unified America." But he said the theme was not related to his slim victory in the Electoral College and his loss in the popular vote to his Democratic rival, Vice President Al Gore.

The ceremony was simpler 200 years ago when the then-small town held its first inauguration. Thomas Jefferson walked from his boarding house to take the oath of office and then returned to his residence for dinner.

Dinners are a lot fancier nowadays.

Beginning Thursday and going through Saturday, hotels and public buildings like the Union Station railroad station will be awash with food and drink as revelers celebrate Bush being the first president to take the oath of office in the 21st century.

The president-elect, Vice President-elect Dick Cheney and their families will attend some of the festivities but for most it will just be a time to party.

The inauguration brings to town a wide variety of people like former first lady Barbara Bush, civil rights activist Al Sharpton and Latin heartthrob Ricky Martin.

Mrs. Bush will become the first woman ever to see both her husband and her son take the oath of office.

George W. Bush is only the second person ever to follow his father to the White House with John Quincy Adams being the first in 1825. But Adams' mother Abigail died in 1818 and was not alive at the time of his inauguration.

The family contingent will be a large one that not only will include the new president's father, former President George Bush, but also his siblings and their families, including brother Jeb, the governor of Florida, where the latest election was decided.

PARTIES AND PROTESTS

Sharpton, the New York activist, will not be in town to celebrate but instead will be among the hundreds who are planning to come to protest.

He will be among those protesting what they see as disenfranchisement of black voters in the November election.

But other groups will be addressing a wide range of issues. More than 100 Web sites dot the Internet urging people to join their causes including opponents of the death penalty and Bush's anti-abortion stand. Veterans of previous demonstrations against the World Bank in Seattle and Washington, D.C., were expected to be on hand.

No one was predicting how many protesters would arrive but the Secret Service's major events division has been planning security for about a year and most of its 2,800 agents and 1,200 uniformed officers will be on duty.

Martin will be entertaining, not protesting. The singer will be the highlight of a show at the Lincoln Memorial officially opening the inaugural ceremonies on Thursday night.

The 90-minute extravaganza will include a wide variety of celebrities and entertainers like country singer Clint Black, boxing legend Muhammad Ali, the dancing Rockettes from Radio City Music Hall and British composer Andrew Lloyd Weber, who will introduce a new song.

The parties and special events - such as Friday's tribute to American authors led by future first lady Laura Bush - will continue through Saturday night when eight official inaugural balls will be held around town.

But even with the marching bands and the parades, the dancing and the black tie affairs, the main event takes only seconds.

At noon on Saturday, George Walker Bush will place his hand on a Bible used by George Washington when he became the country's first chief executive and repeat a 35-word constitutionally required oath to make him the 43rd president of the United States.


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