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WASHINGTON: Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States on Wednesday at a historic inaugural ceremony, pledging to unite the country and calling on Americans to end the "uncivil war" that has fractured the deeply polarised nation.
Kamala Harris was also sworn in as America's first woman Vice President in a time-honoured ceremony on the steps of the US Capitol, amidst unprecedented security following the January 6 mob attack in Washington D.C. by supporters of former president Donald Trump.
Harris, the daughter of an Indian immigrant from Chennai, scripted history by becoming the first-ever woman Vice President of the United States. The 56-year-old former Senator is also the first Black and first South Asian American vice president.
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In his first speech as president, Biden addressed his "fellow Americans" who may view the future with fear and trepidation -- but called on them not to turn inwards in difficult times.
"We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus -- rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal," the 78-year-old Democrat said after becoming the oldest US president.
"We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts. If we show a little tolerance and humility, and if we are willing to stand in the other person's shoes," he said.
Biden also pledged to repair America's global alliances, which suffered during his predecessor Trump's four-year regime.
This is America's day. This is democracy's day. A day in history and hope, of renewal and resolve, he said.
Today, we celebrate the triumph not of a candidate, but of a cause. The cause of democracy. The people, the will of the people has been heard and the will of the people has been heeded," he said.
"We've learned again that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile. And at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed, he said, apparently referring to Trump's efforts to deny him victory in the November 3 election won by him.
Trump ignored 152 years of tradition of presidents attending their successors' swearing-in ceremonies and left Washington early for his Atlantic coastal mansion in Florida.
In his speech that lasted for 21 minutes, Biden praised Americans for rising to the challenge and reclaiming democracy.
He mentioned the attempt to undo it at that exact location two weeks ago, and renewed his campaign goals of overcoming the pandemic, bringing racial justice and fighting climate change, referring to the violent attack on the US Capitol by supporters of Trump on January 6.
"With unity we can do great things, he said referring to the challenges ahead of him from fighting the coronavirus to addressing racial injustice.
"Unity is the path forward," he asserted, laying out his vision to defeat the pandemic, build back better, and unify and heal the nation.
Biden asserted that he will be the president for all Americans, all those who voted for him and those who did not vote for him.
He said the nation must confront white supremacy. The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer, the president said.
He pointed to Harris being sworn in as vice-president as an indication of how much positive change the nation can achieve. Don't tell me things can't change, Biden said.
Biden also criticised those who have stoked anger and division, and asked those who opposed him to "hear me out."
He called out those who lie for political power and profit. There is truth, and there are lies, he added.
In a message to the international community, Biden said that he would rebuild the alliances frayed over the past four years. "We can make America once again the leading force of good in the world."
"We will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again, not to meet yesterday's challenges but today's and tomorrow's challenges, he said.
"We'll lead, not merely by the example of our power, but by the power of our example. We'll be a strong and trusted partner for peace, progress and security," he said in his message to the international community.
America he asserted has been tested, and has come out stronger for it.
The President led a moment of silence for the 400,000 Americans who have died of COVID-19, and promised not to lie to Americans. I give you my word: I will always level with you, he said.
Few people in our nation's history have been more challenged or found a time more challenging or difficult than the time we are in now.
"Once in a century virus that silently stalks the country has taken as many lives in one year as America lost in all of World War II. Millions of jobs have been lost. Hundreds of thousands of businesses closed. A cry for racial justice some 400 years in the making moves us. The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer, he said.
The cry for survival comes from the planet itself. A cry that can't be any more desperate or any more clear. And now a rise of political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism that we must confront and we will defeat," he said.
To overcome these challenges, to restore the soul and secure the future of America requires so much more than words. It requires the most elusive of all things in a democracy, he said, underlining the need for unity.
He urged every American to unite to fight the foes the country faces, anger, resentment, and hatred.
The swearing-in ceremonies were witnessed by three former presidents -- Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. (PTI)