After a sombre tribute to the fallen, Obama concert kicks off celebrations

 

The US President-elect Barack Obama laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery in a solemn morning service yesterday. Dressed in a black overcoat he was joined by Vice President-elect Joe Biden at the white marble sarcophagus above the grave of an unidentified soldier from the First World War.

Later yesterday afternoon Mr Obama went to an outdoor concert on The Mall headlined by Bruce Springsteen. It began a four-day round of celebration that will culminate in a prayer service on Wednesday. The free concert also featured U2 and Beyonce and a crowd of half a million was expected to hear stars read dramatic passages.

After the wreath-laying, Mr Obama thrilled the congregation of one of Washington's black churches by turning up for the 90-minute service. More than 250 people, mostly black churchgoers in their Sunday best, screamed with delight as the presidential motorcade turned down 16th Street to the 169-year-old church. The first-couple-to-be sat in the second row with their daughters, Malia and Sasha, and Mrs Obama's mother Marian Robinson, who is also moving to the White House.

Mr Obama was told he was walking in the footsteps of Martin Luther King, whose memory the US honours today. Pastor Derrick Harkins declared that when times are tough, Mr Obama should turn to the strength of his wife and to God. "Understand that God has prepared you, and God has placed you, and God will not forsake you," Mr Harkins told the incoming president.

The normally quiet Sunday streets are filling up as up to three million visitors pour in for the inauguration.

The new president may be attending at least 10 of the balls in his honour but he is planning to work a full day on Wednesday, with an agenda packed with the prayer service, diplomatic talks, declarations on the war in Iraq and a welcoming ceremony for hundreds of visitors at the White House.

Mr Obama will be tackling the economy head-on in his first day at work. He intends to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to jolt the country out of recession. A New York Times poll has revealed that Americans have confidence in his ability to turn the situation around within a year.

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