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Cowboy hats, chaos set scene at George W. Bush's inauguration

WASHINGTON, Jan. 20-Following one of the most bitterly contested presidential elections in the nation's history, George W. Bush finally took the oath of office Saturday, pledging to restore national unity in a climate of political division.

"While many of our citizens prosper, others doubt the promise, even the justice, of our own country," Bush said as Vice President and former presidential candidate Al Gore looked on.

In an apparent overture to minorities, some of whom rallied Saturday against the legitimacy of his presidency, Bush vowed to mend economic divides during his tenure.

"The ambitions of some Americans are limited by failing schools and hidden prejudice and the circumstances of their birth ... We do not accept this, and we will not allow it," he said.

Echoing John F. Kennedy's famed exhortation to "ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country," Bush repeatedly stressed that the virtue of the individual is the foundation of a stable society.

"Our public interest depends on private character, on civic duty and family bonds and basic fairness, on uncounted, unhonored acts of decency which give direction to our freedom," he said.

Although Bush's speech reiterated campaign promises to reform education, Social Security and Medicare, his pledge to reduce taxes drew the loudest applause from the crowd.

Thousands of spectators braved steady rain and near-freezing temperatures to witness the spectacle, which culminated in an elaborate parade.

Both Bush supporters and detractors turned out in droves, many traveling from across the country to attend the event.

Protestors representing a diverse array of organizations, from the National Organization for Women to Rev. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition, seized the inauguration as a golden opportunity to thrust their views into the public eye.

The majority of protestors came to contest the legitimacy of Bush's election, holding signs with such messages as "President-Select Bush: 'Illegitimable'" and "TX Cocaine Frat Boy."

Bob Kunst, activist and founder of the Oral Majority, a gay rights group based in Miami, said Bush is "illegitimate, an impostor, and a thief."

Kunst, looking conspicuously tanned as sleet fell on his hooded coat, said his organization wants a federal investigation into allegations of voting irregularities in his home state of Florida.

Police reported four arrests during the protests.

Bush supporters, many wearing cowboy boots and ten-gallon hats, were undeterred by the protesters.

John D. Wilcox, Jr., a nuclear engineer from New Market, Md., and a supporter of Bush's emphasis on transferring more power to local governments, said he did not resent the protestors' presence.

"That is their right," he said.

Although most spectators expressed strong political allegiance, some simply came to watch history in the making. "I am a Bush supporter, but I would've come anyway," said Elizabeth McGill from Manassas.