Winter blast fails to spoil Clinton's party

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 January, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 January, 1997, 12:00am

President Bill Clinton consulted the Bible, show business stars went through rehearsals and the public watched the sky as Washington geared up for a political extravaganza.

Fireworks exploded over the city on Saturday night when celebrations got under way for the 53rd inauguration of the President of the United States.

Despite the sub-zero temperatures of the coldest weekend of the winter, thousands flocked to the Mall where, under the shadow of the White House, heated tents provided entertainment, food and history lectures as part of the build-up.

President Clinton was locked in his study writing the text of his second inauguration speech. Part of his traditional task was to select a passage at which the Bible will be opened when he raises his hand to take the oath of office tonight.

Spokesman Mike McCurry said Mr Clinton was thinking of reflecting the theme of his second term - building a bridge to the next century - in a verse from the Old Testament Book of Nehemiah: 'And they said, let us rise up and build, so they strengthened their hands for his good work.' A parade of showbiz stars, including Stevie Wonder, Whoopi Goldberg, Aretha Franklin and Kenny G, were running through their acts at a dress rehearsal for the inaugural gala ball due to be held this morning at a sports arena just outside the city. There was no sign that Mr Clinton's second inaugural was likely to be any less sparkling than the first.

Organisers came under fire for the estimated US$43 million (HK$332.3 million) cost of the festivities, at least US$12 million of which is due to be paid for by the taxpayer.

A record 14 official inaugural balls were scheduled for last night and tonight, with scores of other unofficial parties using up every catering service in the city.

Despite Washington's stuffy reputation, the hottest ticket in town was the alternative party at an art gallery thrown by cable station MTV.

Despite being locked out of the official balls by victorious Democratic Party staff, the Republicans were determined not to be left in the cold.

Rivalling the glittering array of bashes was the Republicans' own party entitled 'Mourning in America - feel our pain'.

They said the cost of the festivities was far too high.

For today's ceremony, organisers are hoping for less gruelling weather for the thousands of spectators - and security men - gathering to watch the swearing-in and parade along Pennsylvania Avenue.

Evangelist Billy Graham will officiate at the swearing-in.

Paul Tsongas, a former Democratic senator from Massachusetts and 1992 presidential candidate, has died in Boston of pneumonia after liver treatment. He was 55.