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U.S.: Washington Set For Parades, Protests On Inauguration Day

  • Kevin Foley

Tomorrow George W. Bush formally assumes the presidency of the United States when he takes the oath of office on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. There will be parades and celebrations for the new president, but there will be protests as well. RFE/RL correspondent K.P. Foley reports on what to expect.

Washington, 19 January 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Spokesmen for President-elect George W. Bush hope tomorrow's inauguration of the new president will put to rest any rancor that remains from one of the most bitterly contested presidential elections in U.S. history.

However, the Washington, D.C. police department says it is expecting anywhere from 5,000 to 15,000 demonstrators to protest the new administration of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

Several groups still angry over Bush's victory over Vice President Al Gore in the November election have made it clear they will hold noisy demonstrations during the inaugural ceremony and along the parade route Bush will take to the White House.

Bush inaugural committee spokesman Ed Gillespie says the president-elect respects the right of all Americans to express their views, a right he noted is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

"We're strong believers in the First Amendment and people have a right to express their views and to express themselves."

Gillespie says the committee hopes only that the demonstrators are not too disruptive. He also asserted that the demonstrators are "out of step" with most Americans.

"Most Americans tend to see this inauguration, as I said, the peaceful transfer of power as a hallmark of our Republic and they see it as an opportunity for people to come together and celebrate in the democratic process."

Bush will formally become the 43rd President of the United States tomorrow when he takes the oath of office from U.S. Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Bush succeeds President Bill Clinton, who is concluding his second four-year term, the maximum permitted by the constitution.

The new president will swear to defend the constitution and uphold the laws of the nation on the same Bible used by his father, George Bush, at his inauguration on 20 January 1991. This is only the second time in U.S. history that a son has followed his father into the White House. John Adams, the second president (1797-1801), saw his son, John Quincy Adams, inaugurated in 1825.

This will be the 54th inaugural ceremony. The first president, George Washington, was inaugurated in New York City when it served as the capital of the newly independent republic. John Adams was inaugurated in Philadelphia, which served as the temporary capital until Washington, D.C. was constructed in 1800. Thomas Jefferson was the first president inaugurated in Washington.

Bush committee officials expect 500,000 people to come to the city for the ceremonies and the celebrations. Protest groups received police permits for demonstrations at eight sites on the parade route, but smaller groups of protestors are also expected to gather at other sites.

At press conferences held this past week, protest organizers contended that many Americans are still angry over what they perceive as the unfair outcome of the election.

The election was decided by the outcome of the popular vote in the state of Florida. Bush outpolled Gore by 537 votes there. That gave him the votes of Florida's presidential electors and the necessary margin of victory under the indirect presidential election method used in the United States.

Bush and Gore fought several legal battles over the counting of disputed votes in Florida and Gore finally conceded in mid-December when the U.S. Supreme Court closed out his recount efforts.

One of the protest organizers, Sarah Sloan of the New York-based International Action Center, told reporters that there is "massive anger out there over the way the election took place."

Other groups plan protests centered around opposition to some of the social policies espoused by Bush. For example, Bush has expressed his opposition to a woman's legal right to an abortion. The National Organization for Women plans to protest the Bush view on that topic.

The entire 535-member U.S. Congress will attend the swearing-in ceremony on the steps of the Congress. All nine Supreme Court justices are to attend, as well as former presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Bush's father. Former President Ronald Reagan is recovering from surgery in California.

Gillespie noted that by custom, no foreign heads of state or government will attend.

"The dignitaries to whom we extend invitations are those ambassadors to the United States, head of missions from foreign countries and that is the tradition and the custom, and that custom was followed in this election year."

To symbolize the peaceful transfer of power, Gillespie pointed out that Bush and his wife Laura will be escorted to the inaugural ceremony by President Clinton and his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

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