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'Yes, we did!' Obama bids a tearful farewell

© Scott Olson / Getty Images North America / AFP | Barack Obama during his farewell speech in Chicago on Tuesday January 10, 2017.

Text by Sam BALL

Latest update : 2017-01-11

President Barack Obama delivered a tearful farewell speech Tuesday night, thanking the American public for helping make the country a "better, stronger place" during his time in office, while warning of the threats facing the nation and its values.

Addressing the nation for the final time before Donald Trump takes over the presidency on January 20, a visibly emotional Obama started his speech at the McCormick Place convention centre in Chicago, the city where he began his political career, with a heartfelt thank you to the American people.

"Whether we've seen eye-to-eye or rarely agreed at all, my conversations with you, the American people … are what have kept me honest, kept me inspired, and kept me going," he said.

Peaceful transition 'a hallmark of our democracy'

"Every day, I learned from you. You made me a better President, and you made me a better man."

Earlier, as Obama had taken the stage, the crowd had erupted into chants of "four more years".

"I can't do that," a smiling Obama replied.

Call for unity

On a busy day in Washington, where the Senate's grilling of Trump's picks for cabinet posts began, and as reports circulated of sensational claims about compromising intelligence held by Russia on the president-elect, Obama chose to focus on his administration's achievements, including health care reform, marriage equality and economic growth.

"That's what we did. That's what you did. You were the change. You answered people's hopes, and because of you, by almost every measure, America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started," he said.

As Trump prepares to take office, many of those achievements are now under threat. But, following a bitter and divisive presidential race in which Trump defeated the former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, Obama called on the country to move forward with unity.

"In 10 days, the world will witness a hallmark of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power from one freely elected president to the next," he said, to boos in the crowd.

"No, no, no, no, no," he responded. "I committed to President-Elect Trump that my administration would ensure the smoothest possible transition, just as President Bush did for me. Because it's up to all of us to make sure our government can help us meet the many challenges we still face."

'Threat to democracy '

There were several references to Trump's policies and rhetoric, as Obama warned of the dangers posed by those challenges.

Trump has frequently voiced scepticism over global warming, and Obama warned that the "faith in reason" that has been at the heart of US values for centuries is now under threat.

He also addressed the fight against global terrorism, arguing that military action must be matched by a defence of "the values that make us who we are".

"That's why, for the past eight years, I've worked to put the fight against terrorism on a firm legal footing. That's why we've ended torture, worked to close Gitmo, and reform our laws governing surveillance to protect privacy and civil liberties," he said.

While Trump has been accused of enflaming racial tensions with his comments and policy proposals -- including calling for a ban on Muslim immigrants and a border wall with Mexico -- Obama argued that discrimination and racial equality represented a "threat to our democracy".

Obama: 'The effects of slavery didn't just suddenly vanish in the 60s'

"We must uphold laws against discrimination - in hiring, in housing, in education and the criminal justice system. That's what our Constitution and highest ideals require," he said, adding that "hearts must change.''

Tearful tribute to Michelle

A sell-out 18,000 crowd turned out to witness Obama's final address. They were joined by Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill, along with the president's wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Malia.

Obama called Biden "the first choice I made as a nominee, and the best" because "not only have you have been a great vice president, but because in the bargain, I gained a brother".

The most emotional moment of the night came, however, when Obama paid tribute to his family.

Wiping a tear from his eye, he said Michelle had been not only "my wife and mother of my children, but my best friend" over the past 25 years.

Obama thanks 'best friend' Michelle

"You took on a role you didn't ask for and made it your own with grace and grit and style and good humour," he said. "A new generation sets its sights higher because it has you as a role model. You've made me proud. You've made the country proud."

His final remarks, however, were to the American people, who he urged to continue the fight to bring about the change he had called for when he first ran for president eight years ago, repurposing his famous campaign line from the time.

"Yes We Can! Yes We Did! Yes We Can!" he said.

The full farewell speech

Date created : 2017-01-11

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