WASHINGTON -- With hundreds of thousands descending on Washington to celebrate -- and protest -- Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration, the U.S. capital is bracing for a ceremony whose pomp has been overshadowed by extraordinary tensions.
A day before Trump formally takes the oath of office, workers on January 19 continued ringing the central district surrounding the National Mall with long walls of 4.5-meter-high chain-link fencing and concrete vehicle barriers.
Sand-filled dump trucks could be seen parked on some city streets, to serve as additional security barricades.
During the day, pounding rock music echoed across the mall from a soundstage outside the Lincoln Memorial as technicians tested equipment ahead of a January 19 evening concert where Trump was expected to speak briefly.
After arriving in Washington on a military plane at midday, the Republican president-elect and other dignitaries attended a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Ceremony, where many of the U.S. war dead are buried, across the Potomac River.
Trump pledged both to bring "real change" to Washington and to unify the deeply divided county in brief remarks to thousands of supporters after attending the concert at the Lincoln Memorial.
"We're going to unify our country," Trump said. "We're going to do things that haven't been done for our country for many, many decades. ... It's going to change, I promise you."
On January 20, Trump will take the oath of office in a ceremony held in its traditional location on a stage erected on the west side of the U.S. Capitol. Following a luncheon, he and family members are expected to participate in a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue directly to the White House.
"I can tell you it will be a humbling and moving day for the president-elect and his family," Vice President-elect Mike Pence told reporters in Washington on January 19. "We are all ready to go to work for the American people."
Officials said as many as 900,000 people could cram into Washington for the ceremony, and the departing secretary of homeland security said police would be aiming to separate Trump supporters from protesters to avoid clashes.
"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," Jeh Johnson told MSNBC.
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At least three different protest marches are planned over the weekend, with the largest, called the Women’s March on Washington, scheduled for January 21. At least one pro-Trump demonstration, organized by a group of motorcyclists, is planned for January 20.
After a bitter and divisive electoral campaign, Trump enters the White House with some of the lowest public approval ratings of any president in 25 years.
A Gallup poll released on January 13 showed that a clear majority of Americans disapprove of Trump -- the lowest rating of an incoming president since Bill Clinton took office in 1992, when Gallup began polling the White House transition.
Confirmation hearings for Trump’s cabinet nominees this week have been marked by often testy questions from lawmakers, particularly Democrats, amid concerns about the nominees’ qualifications and potential conflicts of interests.
Those concerns prompted a rebuke from Trump spokesman Sean Spicer, who singled out the man who is now one of the most powerful Democrats in Washington, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.
"It’s about partisan attacks and ethical questions. ... Their quality and integrity is unquestionable," Spicer told reporters.
Spicer also suggested Trump could issue executive orders immediately after -- or within days of -- taking office on some of his signature issues: immigration, job creation, and manufacturing.
Executive orders are essentially constitutionally legal decrees that don’t need approval from Congress, a tool that President Barack Obama has used liberally in his final years in office as a way to circumvent Republican opposition.
"You see a president who is committed to uniting this country," Spicer said.
Trump, meanwhile, raised eyebrows again this week when he proposed holding more military parades in Washington and New York.
"Being a great president has to do with a lot of things, but one of them is being a great cheerleader for the country," Trump said in an interview with The Washington Post published this week. "And we’re going to show the people as we build up our military, we’re going to display our military."
"That military may come marching down Pennsylvania Avenue. That military may be flying over New York City and Washington, D.C., for parades. I mean, we’re going to be showing our military," he was quoted as saying.
With reporting by AP and AFP