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Security tight as Trump supporters, protesters flood DC for inauguration

Timothy A. Clary, AFP | The US Marine Corps Band practises in front of the podium where Donald Trump will take the oath of office at noon on January 20.

Tens of thousands of security officials are deployed in Washington, DC, on Friday as the capital braces for almost a million people flooding in to either celebrate or protest against the swearing-in of Donald Trump as president.

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Washington has turned into a virtual fortress with miles of barriers set up and a heavy police presence deployed ahead of the inauguration. Some 900,000 people – both Trump supporters and protesters – are expected in the capital, according to estimates by organisers.

Some 28,000 security officers, several miles of barriers and roadblocks, and dump trucks laden with sand will be part of a security cordon set up around a 3-square-mile (almost 8-square-km) section of central Washington on Friday.

Inaugural events will include the swearing-in ceremony on the steps of the US Capitol building and a parade to the White House down streets thronged with spectators. Police cars lined much of the parade route on Pennsylvania Avenue ahead of the inauguration, as workers erected barricades and marked off pavement with tape.

The inauguration’s crowd is expected to fall short of the 2 million people who attended Obama’s inauguration in January 2009. Rain forecast for Friday in Washington may also dampen turnout.

But the number of protests planned for Friday far exceeds what has been seen at other presidential inaugurations, with some 30 permits granted in Washington alone for anti-Trump rallies. Other protests are planned in US cities from Boston to Los Angeles and even abroad, including London and Sydney.

Those opposed to Trump have been angered by his campaign rally comments about Muslims and illegal immigrants, as well as his vow to scrap President Barack Obama’s healthcare law and build a border wall to keep out Mexicans. The revelation of a video in which he bragged that he could grope women as he pleased because he was famous also angered many and for a time threatened to tank his campaign.

His supporters argue that his experience in business will be good for the country. As a real estate developer and reality TV star who has never held a position in government, loyalists view him as an outsider who they hope will bring a fresh approach to politics. The Trump campaign cry “Drain the swamp” expressed the hope that Trump would help rid Washington of corrupt insiders.

A group of protesters has launched the Bridges Not Walls movement, urging cities to display messages of “solidarity and common humanity” on bridges and monuments across the world, including the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Police say they will be ready to step in to separate protesters from Trump supporters at any sign of confrontation.

US Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said police aimed to keep the groups separate, using tactics similar to those employed during last year’s political conventions.

“The concern is some of these groups are pro-Trump, some of them are con-Trump, and they may not play well together in the same space,” Johnson said on the MSNBC news network.

A protest group known as Disrupt J20 has vowed to stage demonstrations at each of 12 security checkpoints across the capital and block access to the festivities on the grassy National Mall.

Bikers for Trump, a group that designated itself to perform a security support role during last summer’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland, said it will be ready to step in if protesters block access to the inauguration, according to Dennis Egbert, one of the group’s organisers.

“We’re going to be backing up law enforcement. We’re on the same page,” said Egbert, 63, a retired electrician from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Police and security officials have pledged to guarantee protesters’ constitutional rights to free speech and peaceful assembly.

A-list protest

On the eve of the inauguration, protesters in Washington attempted to disrupt a gala event attended by Trump supporters. Police scuffled with protesters outside the National Press Club where the Trump camp had gathered for the "DeploraBall", a play on Hillary Clinton’s description of Trump supporters as “a basket of deplorables”.

Hundreds of other people turned out on Thursday for a protest in New York at the Trump International Hotel and Tower, a few blocks from where the president-elect lives in Trump Tower. Actors Robert De Niro, Sally Field, Mark Ruffalo and director Michael Moore were among those who took part in the demonstration along with pop icon Cher.

"He does not rule with a mandate," Moore said in reference to the fact that Clinton won the popular vote by some 2.8 million people.

"We are the majority. Don't give up. I won't give up," he said, urging people to call their representatives in Congress to oppose Trump policies when necessary.

Alec Baldwin, who parodies Trump on “Saturday Night Live”, also said that Americans wary of Trump's policies should become more involved.

Democratic New York Mayor Bill de Blasio was also in attendance.

“Donald Trump may control Washington, but we control our destiny as Americans,” de Blasio said. “We don’t fear the future. We think the future is bright, if the people’s voices are heard.”

Among the groups that helped organise the event were Greenpeace, Planned Parenthood and MoveOn.org.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AP)

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