After Barack Obama's inauguration on Tuesday, the 44th president of the United States on Wednesday was set to embrace his new role in a series of meetings on Iraq, Afghanistan and the economy.
Obama was due to discuss with military commanders possibly accelerating the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, and the need for more forces in Afghanistan.
The new president, whose swearing in was celebrated by millions in Washington D.C., was to meet with senior advisers on Wednesday to discuss the stimulus plan to prop up the faltering economy.
In Obama's inauguration speech Tuesday, he cited the worst U.S. economic conditions in 70 years and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as having put the country in crisis. "What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility," he said.
Hours after taking office on Tuesday, meanwhile, the new president ordered military prosecutors in the Guantanamo war crimes tribunals to ask for a 120-day halt in all pending cases.
Military judges were expected to rule on the request on Wednesday at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, an official involved in the trials said.
The request would halt proceedings in 21 pending cases, including the death penalty case against five Guantanamo prisoners accused of plotting the September 11, 2001, attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
Prosecutors said in their written request that the halt was "in the interests of justice."
President Obama: U.S. a friend of all nations, ready to lead once more
As Obama was sworn in on Tuesday, millions of people gathered in Washington, D.C., to witness the historic event unfold.
In his inaugural address, Obama said that under his administration, America would usher in "a new era of peace" guided by international friendship and mutual respect.
"To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect," he said.
"To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy," he said.
"To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."
He told a cheering crowd that America was a friend of the every nation and was ready to be a responsible leader of the world. "We reject as false the choice between our safety and our idealism," he told a cheering crowd.
"And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: Know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more."
Obama began his inaugural address by saying he was taking the helm of a nation in the midst of crisis, but assured America that while the challenges faced by the country were real, "they will be met."
"That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred," he said. "Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age."
"Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time," Obama said. "But know this, America - they will be met."
"The time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness."
On the topic of defense, Obama said that power and responsibility must go hand-in-hand: "Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions," he said.
"They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please," he said. "Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint."
Obama vowed that America would correct its ills in Iraq and Afghanistan and help the war-torn nations achieve peace and stability.
"We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan," he said.
He also said that his administration would work against a warring world propelled by nuclear ambitions. "With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat," he said.
"We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you."
"For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers," he said.
"We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace."
Millions gather in D.C. to witness historic inauguration
The National Mall in Washington D.C. filled with America's expectations on Tuesday as excited crowds clogged mass transit lines and security checkpoints.
Senator Joe Biden was sworn in as vice president just before Obama, in a gala ceremony kicked off by a serenade from Aretha Franklin, who sang "My Country 'Tis of Thee."
Energized by the historic moment, hundreds of thousands of people turned this city's orderly grid of streets into a festive party scene. Ready to endure below-freezing temperatures, they streamed up from subway stations and thronged past parked buses, emergency vehicles and street vendors, bound for Pennsylvania Avenue and the National Mall for the inauguration.
At the Capitol, a plexiglass shield extended about two feet up from the balustrade around the speaker's platform. Muhammad Ali took his seat on the platform, as did actor John Cusack and director Stephen Spielberg. A huge cheer rose from the Mall as the image of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy flashed on jumbo TV screens showing the veteran Democrat, who is fighting brain cancer, heading toward his seat on the inauguration stand.
By 4 A.M., lines of riders had already formed in suburban parking lots for the Metro transit system, which opened early and put on extra trains for the expected rush. Many parking lots filled up and had to be closed. Subway service was disrupted on one of Washington's main Metro arteries after a woman fell on the tracks at a downtown station. She was hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries.
The city's fire department responded to dozens of calls from people falling down or complaining of the being cold, Etter said. About two dozen were hospitalized. Department spokesman Alan Etter said medical personnel were having trouble getting to people quickly around the mall because of the throngs, but that everyone who needed help has eventually received treatment.
The streets around the Capitol quickly filled with people, and security checkpoints were mobbed in what was part of the largest security operation in presidential inauguration history. The cold registered at a frosty 25 degrees Fahrenheit (-4 Celsius) at late morning.
A flea-market atmosphere prevailed on downtown streets, with white tents set up to sell Obama T-shirts and mugs as well as food, bottled water, snacks, scarves and footwarmers. The scent of grilled coiled sausages and steaming Chinese food greeted those who walked toward the parade route, more than six hours before Obama would pass by.
As the first waves of people began moving through security screenings, they scrambled for prime viewing spots along Pennsylvania Avenue - sitting on the curb, staking out plots of grass, or clambering on to cold metal benches.
Police projected inaugural crowds between 1 million and 2 million. Planners say attendance could easily top the 1.2 million people who were at Lyndon B. Johnson's 1965 inauguration, the largest crowd the National Park Service has on record. By 7 A.M., some 207,000 people had entered Washington's Metro transit system, transit officials said. Huge lines formed outside subway stations; many parking lots filled up and had to be closed.
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