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Biden sets unity as inaugural tone

Washington—On the cusp of becoming president, Joe Biden pressed Monday for unity, while President Donald Trump remained secluded in the White House at the center of a capital inundated with troops and security barriers.

READY FOR BIDEN. The "Field of Flags" is illuminated on the National Mall as the US Capitol Building is prepared for the inauguration ceremonies for President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on Monday in Washington, DC. Approximately 191,500 US flags will cover part of the National Mall and will represent the American people who are unable to travel to the capital for the inauguration. AFP
Biden marked the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday with a trip from his home in Delaware to pack food bags for charity in Philadelphia -- a gesture symbolizing his call for Americans to come together after four divisive years.

"Service is a fitting way to start to heal, unite, and rebuild this country we love," Biden said in a video marking the occasion.

But the 78-year-old Democrat's fervent appeals for optimism and healing— which are also set to dominate his inauguration ceremony at noon on Wednesday —are running up against the hard reality of multiple crises.

Covid-19 is out of control, vaccine distribution is stumbling, and economic recovery remains in the balance.

The United States' rocky transition of power was underlined Monday when Biden's spokeswoman quickly dismissed Trump's announcement that a Covid-19 ban on travelers arriving from much of Europe and Brazil would be lifted later this month.

Trump had refused for more than two months to accept the results of November's presidential election, and the country is seething with division and anger.

When Biden takes the oath of office at noon on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila), he will face a city under the protection of more than 20,000 National Guard soldiers.

Checkpoints and large zones closed to ordinary citizens mean there will be only a smattering of guests. Similar lockdowns have been imposed at state capitol buildings around the country where local authorities fear provocations from right-wing groups ahead of the inauguration.

The acting defense secretary said that the military and FBI was vetting the National Guard troopers, who carry automatic weapons, in case any of them posed a threat.

"While we have no intelligence indicating an insider threat, we are leaving no stone unturned in securing the capital," the official, Christopher Miller, said.

In a culturally significant mark, the legendary country singer Garth Brooks said that he was joining the musical line up at Biden's ceremony, stressing this was "not a political statement, this is a statement of unity."

Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez are already set to perform.

Trump, the first president to lose reelection since George H.W. Bush was replaced by Bill Clinton, is skipping Biden's inauguration -- the first ex-president to snub his successor in a century and a half.

On Wednesday, he'll travel to his Mar-a-Lago golf club residence in Florida, departing the White House early in order to benefit from full presidential travel privileges up to the last minute.

Marine One will take him from the White House to Joint Base Andrews to catch Air Force One -- the presidential plane that will no longer be his to use from noon.

According to a Bloomberg report, Trump is organizing a military sendoff for himself at Andrews, watched by a crowd of invitees.

Topics: Joe Biden , Donald Trump , Martin Luther King Jr , White House
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