, WASHINGTON, Jan 21 – Excited crowds filled up Washington’s National Mall on Monday for Barack Obama’s second inauguration as US president, anchored on a call for America to unite despite ugly political divides.
Obama will raise his right hand and place his left on bibles once owned by Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln and swear the oath of office before mustering for four years threatened by strife at home and abroad.
The 44th US president, and the first African American to hold the office, launched his second term with a private swearing-in ceremony on Sunday, before basking in the full pomp of his office with public celebrations on Monday.
Obama will set the rhetorical tone for the remainder of his presidency with an inaugural address to a crowd expected to reach half a million, will headline a parade and then waltz with the first lady at glittering inaugural balls.
Bundled-up Obama supporters trekked into town to join snaking lines for Secret Service checkpoints guarding a steel-fenced secure zone around the White House and the inaugural parade route.
Three hours before the inauguration, the crowd built between the flag-draped US Capitol building, where Obama will take the oath on an outdoor platform, and the marble obelisk of the Washington monument, soaring into a blue sky.
Armoured military vehicles and parked buses blocked major roads, as part of a security vice which included air and river exclusion zones, road closures and a heavy presence of police and National Guard reserve troops.
Temperatures were forecast for a relatively comfortable upper 30 degrees Fahrenheit (3 to 4 degrees Celsius), much warmer than the bitter chill that has had crowds shivering at some previous inaugurations.
Though the mood was festive, as revellers crammed into coffee shops and subway trains heading downtown, Obama’s second inauguration lacks the sense of historic promise and hope that greeted his first term in 2009.
One Obama supporter, the Reverend Ruddie Mingo, 54, donated time and money to the president’s winning campaign against Republican Mitt Romney, and said inaugural festivities were less mobbed than four years ago.
“My hope is that his next four years we can get more stuff accomplished on both sides,” he said.
Obama’s political brand has been damaged by an exhausting first term battling the worst economic storm in decades and brutal partisan warfare with his Republican rivals, notably over taxes and spending.
The president started his day in traditional fashion for presidents on inauguration day, worshipping at the St John’s Episcopal Church opposite the White House with his family.
When he returns to politics, Obama, 51, has a legacy to defend, including a historic health care law and a retrenchment from draining wars abroad, and he is vowing to make good on the promise of a fairer economy.
He signalled late on Sunday, at a reception for supporters, that he would dwell on the “common good” and the “goodness, the resilience, neighbourliness, the patriotism” of Americans in his address.
“What we are celebrating is not the election or the swearing in of the president, what we are doing is celebrating each other and celebrating this incredible nation that we call home,” Obama said.