Emotive scenes as Obama sworn in
Washington DC witnesses massive crowds for presidential inauguration.
Last Modified: 20 Jan 2009 23:42 GMT

For many African-Americans, Obama's inauguration was an inspirational moment [AFP]

More than one million people had gathered in Washington DC on a bitterly cold day to reserve their seats for the inauguration.

But for the lucky few who had tickets within hearing distance of Barack Obama at the US Capitol building - where congress is housed - the weather would have been the last thing on their minds.

The entire US political elite had gathered to see the former Illinois senator become the nation's first African-American president.

There was applause for past presidents, the most enthusiastic reserved for Bill Clinton, whose wife Hillary will lead Obama's foreign policy team as secretary of state.

But there were boos for the now former president, George Bush, a sign of the divisions that remain over his legacy.

And later, there were loud cheers when he departed the ceremony by helicopter after formally relinquishing the presidency.

But alongside the poitical elite and celebrities such as Denzel Washington, the Hollywood actor, ordinary US citizens had gathered, many of them African-American.

In the background, the crowd stretched for more than a mile towards the White House, cameras flashing in the distance.

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Former US president John F Kennedy's inauguration was remembered for his famous "ask not what your country can do for you ... but what you can do for your country".

The Bush inauguration in 2000 was marked by protests, with anger still fresh after the controversy over his election win over Al Gore.

Obama's speech did not elicit the massive outpouring of emotion witnessed during his victory address in Chicago on November 4.

However the themes of hope, unity and perseverance appeared to hit home for many.

"When he said at the end that we will not give up in the face of adversity - my heart was beating so fast," said Mary Warner, a trainee social worker from Washington DC.

Others were buoyed by his desire to mend the US's sometimes troubled relations with Muslims around the world.

"When he talked directly to the Muslim nation ... I thought that was a very interesting quote," said Henry McGhee, who had travelled from Obama's political hometown of Chicago.

But when asked about what Obama should do first when he settles down to work in the White House, most agreed on that one issue should take priority - the economy.

The US faces one its most serious economic crises since the Great Depression of the 1930's and Obama has said he will begin tackling the issue on day one of his presidency.

Selling Obama

For African-Americans, the day held a special significance.

Phillip Lucas was emotional following the
Obama's victory as the first African-American president has for many symbolised the hope that the US will be able to draw a line under its divided racial past.

Thousands joined the crowds flooding the streets of the US Capitol, a sign that the motivating power of Obama's presidential campaign, in which polls showed 95 per cent of African-Americans voted for the former Illinois senator.

"I've never been so proud to be an American, said Phillip Lucas, a student from Seattle.

'I feel like racism is not over ... but it's a brand new day for all of America."

The streets of the centre of Washington were crammed with people, many wearing merchandise bought from the dozens of unofficial merchandise outlets that had sprung up over the city.

Obama T-shirts, hats, scarves, mats, clocks, watches and even magnets were on display.

Business was brisk, with larges queues at many stalls, a sign of the strength of the Obama brand.

A nine dollar note, mimicking US currency, was also available featuring a picture of Obama and his slogan: "Change".

Obama inspired many in the US and the world with that message - now this crowd will be looking to him to deliver.

Al Jazeera
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