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Biden’s inauguration to seek unity against backdrop of troops

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Workers construct the stage for the presidential inauguration at the US Capitol on December 1, 2020./AFP
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Jan 12, 2021 - 07:05 AM

WASHINGTON — US President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration will seek to foster national unity, organizers said Monday, as fears of renewed violence prompted the Pentagon to authorize a surge of troops ahead of the event.

About 15,000 members of the National Guard have been readied for deployment, with 6,200 already on the ground in Washington following mob violence that broke out at the Capitol last week, General Daniel Hokanson, chief of the Defense Department’s National Guard Bureau, said.

On inauguration day, Biden will lay a wreath in the presence of three former US presidents at Arlington National Cemetery following a swearing-in at the Capitol in front of the National Mall filled with flags rather than the usual hundreds of thousands of spectators.

Organizers announced the inauguration’s “United America” theme less than a week after supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump ransacked the Capitol building, including the stage area on which Biden is to be inaugurated.

Normal celebrations had already been curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 370,000 people in the US, the world’s largest death toll.

Former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton will join Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as they lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider in Arlington National Cemetery following the inauguration.

Instead of being packed with crowds, the enormous lawn stretching away from the Capitol will be dotted by 191,500 flags of varying sizes, according to Biden’s inauguration committee.

‘Participate virtually’ 

Washington DC Mayor Muriel Bowser told a press conference Monday that the city’s “goals right now are to encourage Americans to participate virtually.”

The mayor said she has requested a declaration of a pre-emergency disaster by Trump to unlock additional security funding and asked the Department of Homeland Security to extend the inauguration’s special security period.

She has also called for the cancellation of permits for gatherings during that time.

Plans for armed protests have proliferated in recent days on and off social media, and officials are aiming to halt any repeat of last Wednesday’s violence.

The National Guard will come equipped with riot gear and weapons, but so far they have not been authorized to arm themselves while on the streets of the US capital, Hokanson said.

The Pentagon and the Guard have been criticized for a slow response during the Capitol attack, but Pentagon officials say they were summoned late and did not immediately have riot gear.

Acting Washington police chief Robert Contee said during the mayor’s press conference that he had “talked to officers who have done two tours in Iraq and said this was scarier to them than their time in combat.”

Biden immediately faces the task of healing wounds in a country plagued by economic and health crises, a highly divided electorate and racial tension.

Trump has announced he will not attend the inauguration, which Biden has called “a good thing.” Vice President Mike Pence will reportedly be there.

The only other living US leader to skip the ceremony is former Democratic president Jimmy Carter, who is 96 years old.

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