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Washington a virtual fortress ahead of inauguration

World

Washington has turned into a virtual fortress ahead of Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration, with police ready to step in to separate protesters from Trump supporters at any sign of unrest.

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Some 900,000 people, both Trump backers and opponents, are expected to flood Washington for Friday’s inauguration ceremony, according to organisers’ estimates.

Events include the swearing-in ceremony on the steps of the US Capitol and a parade to the White House along streets thronged with spectators.

The number of planned protests and rallies this year is far above what has been typical at recent presidential inaugurations, with some 30 permits granted in Washington for anti-Trump rallies and sympathy protests planned in cities from Boston to Los Angeles, and abroad in cities including London and Sydney.

About 28,000 security personnel, miles of fencing, roadblocks, street barricades and dump trucks laden with sand are part of the security cordon around 3 square miles (almost 8sqkm) of central Washington.

US Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said police aimed to keep groups separate, using tactics similar to those employed during last year’s political conventions.

“The concern is some of these groups are pro-Trump, some of them are con-Trump, and they may not play well together in the same space,” Johnson said on MSNBC.

Meanwhile, ready for his big moment, Donald Trump has swept into Washington on a military jet, telling his supporters: “You’re not forgotten anymore”.

He pledged to unify a nation that is divided and clamouring for change.

“It’s a movement like we’ve never seen anywhere in the world,” Trump declared at a celebratory Lincoln Memorial concert on the eve of his inauguration.

To his unwavering supporters who were him from the start, he promised: “You’re not forgotten any more. You’re not forgotten any more.”

Trump began taking on more trappings of the presidency, giving a salute to the Air Force officer who welcomed him as he stepped off a US jet with wife Melania at Joint Base Andrews just outside Washington.

Later, he placed a ceremonial wreath at Arlington National Cemetery.

At a luncheon in a ballroom at his own hotel, he gave a shout-out to Republican congressional leaders, declaring: “I just want to let the world know we’re doing very well together”.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, he said, will finally have someone to sign legislation into law.

Then Trump veered into the territory of the unknowable to boast his Cabinet selections had “by far the highest IQ of any Cabinet ever”.

Just blocks away, the White House was quickly emptying out. President Barack Obama had his final weekly lunch with Vice-President Joe Biden and got in a few final official acts, cutting the sentences of 330 inmates and placing a call to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence, in a tweet, called Inauguration Eve “a momentous day before a historic day”, as security barricades and blockades went up around Washington in preparation for Friday’s swearing-in at the Capitol.

“We are all ready to go to work,” Pence said. “In fact, we can’t wait to get to work for the American people to make it great again.”

Trump’s public schedule for the inaugural celebration began at Arlington, where he and Pence stood at attention as a bugler played taps at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Trump’s wife, children and grandchildren silently looked on.

With that solemn moment, “the rhetoric of a campaign moves aside”, Tom Barrack, the head of Trump’s inaugural committee, told CNN. “I think you’re going to see a shift from candidate to world leader. I think he’s feeling the weight of it.”

From there, Trump shuttled to a celebratory welcome concert on the steps of Lincoln Memorial that ended with filling the evening sky.

The concert, open to the public, offered headliners, including country star Toby Keith, soul’s Sam Moore and rockers 3 Doors Down. But not singer Jennifer Holliday: She backed out after an outcry from Trump critics.

“This is some day, dear friends,” actor Jon Voight told the crowd, casting Trump’s impending inauguration as evidence of divine intervention after “a parade of propaganda that left us all breathless with anticipation, not knowing if God could reverse all the negative lies against Mr Trump”.

The crowd sent up a cheer when the giant screens flashed video of Trump singing along as Lee Greenwood delivered his signature “God Bless the USA”.

Trump declared such a concert had a never been done before. In fact, a number of past presidents have staged inaugural concerts among the monuments.

Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said the president-elect was still making “edits and additions” to the inaugural address he’ll deliver at Friday’s swearing-in.

Never mind about Trump’s gilded private plane: He made his Washington entrance on a Boeing 757 that is part of the fleet of military planes that become Air Force One whenever the president is aboard.

The president-elect, who came to Washington without any press on his plane, was joined on the trip by a gaggle of children, grandchildren and other members of his extended family. Also spotted: bags of dresses and formal wear for the coming days’ festivities.

At the luncheon, Trump invited his future first lady to speak, and Melania Trump told the crowd, “Tomorrow we’re starting the work,” adding that “there’s “a lot of possibility and a lot to take care of”.

Donald Trump made sure to work in a plug for his hotel, saying, “This is a gorgeous room. A total genius must have built this place.”

Reporters covering Trump’s remark were removed from the room before the president-elect finished speaking.

-AP

 

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