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Obama celebrates Martin Luther King

IN a time of profound national crisis, Barack Obama yesterday called Americans to service and optimism, darting through the capital for a blizzard of events on the observation of the 80th birthday of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

The president-elect and an army of aides and volunteers who have planned his inauguration today have built excitement and expectation about the historic swearing-in of the country's first African American president.

The preinaugural festivities have enlivened otherwise staid Washington and seized the imagination of a nation in the grips of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s Great Depression, even as it fights wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama began yesterday at Walter Reed Medical Center in northern Washington to visit wounded United States troops. Aides said the hospital call was private and reporters were not allowed to accompany the president-elect.

The Obamas and Vice President-elect Joe Biden and his wife Jill were joining volunteers in a community renovation project in the Washington area to honor King, who was assassinated 40 years ago. Yesterday was a holiday that commemorates the January 15, 1929 birth of King, who advocated peaceful resistance and equality among all races. His work blazed a trail for Obama, the son of a black Kenyan father and a white mother from Kansas.

"Dr Martin Luther King's was a life lived in loving service to others. As we honor that legacy, it's not a day just to pause and reflect - it's a day to act," Obama said in a statement.

Last night, Obama attended dinners honoring what his transition team termed "three Americans whose lifetime of public service has been enhanced by a dedication to bipartisan achievement." Among them was Senator John McCain, Obama's Republican opponent for the presidency.

Separate dinners honored °?McCain as well as Colin Powell, the former secretary of state and army general who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Biden, for his long years in the US Senate.


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