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    Trump celebrates ‘greatest political journey’ in history

    WASHINGTON (AP) – United States (US) President Donald Trump celebrated the story of America as “the greatest political journey in human history” in a Fourth of July commemoration before a soggy but cheering crowd of spectators, many of them invited, on the grounds of the Lincoln Memorial.

    Supporters welcomed his tribute to the US military while protesters assailed him for putting himself centre stage on a holiday devoted to unity.

    As rain fell on him, Trump called on Americans to “stay true to our cause” during a programme that adhered to patriotic themes and hailed an eclectic mix of history’s heroes, from the armed forces, space, civil rights and other endeavours of American life.

    He largely stuck to his script, avoiding diversions into his agenda or re-election campaign. But in one exception, he vowed, “Very soon, we will plant the American flag on Mars,” actually a distant goal not likely to be achieved until late in the 2020s if even then.

    A late afternoon downpour drenched the capital’s Independence Day crowds and Trump’s speech unfolded in occasional rain. The warplanes and presidential aircraft he had summoned conducted their flyovers as planned, capped by the Navy Blue Angels aerobatics team.  By adding his own, one-hour “Salute to America” production to capital festivities that typically draw hundreds of thousands anyway, Trump became the first president in nearly seven decades to address a crowd at the National Mall on the Fourth of July.

    Protesters objecting to what they saw as his co-opting of the holiday inflated a roly-poly balloon depicting Trump as an angry, diaper-clad baby.
    Trump set aside a historic piece of real estate – a stretch of the Mall from the Lincoln Monument to the midpoint of the reflecting pool – for a mix of invited military members, Republican and Trump campaign donors and other bigwigs. It’s where Martin Luther King Jr gave his “I have a dream” speech, Barack Obama and Trump held inaugural concerts and protesters swarmed into the water when supporters of Richard Nixon put on a July 4, 1970, celebration, with the president sending taped remarks from California.

    Fireworks light the sky over Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument and US Capitol, at the National Mall, during the Independence Day celebrations in Washington. – AP

    Aides to the crowd-obsessed Trump fretted about the prospect of empty seats at his event, said a person familiar with the planning who was not authorised to be identified. Aides scrambled in recent days to distribute tickets and mobilise the Trump and GOP social media accounts to encourage participation for an event hastily arranged and surrounded with confusion.

    Back at the White House, Trump tweeted an aerial photo showing an audience that filled both sides of the memorial’s reflecting pool and stretched to the Washington Monument. “A great crowd of tremendous Patriots this evening, all the way back to the Washington Monument!” he said.

    Many who filed into the sprawling VIP section said they got their free tickets from members of Congress or from friends or neighbours who couldn’t use theirs. Outside that zone, a diverse mix of visitors, locals, veterans, tour groups, immigrant families and more milled about, some drawn by Trump, some by curiosity, some by the holiday’s regular activities along the Mall.

    Protesters earlier made their voices heard in sweltering heat by the Washington Monument, along the traditional parade route and elsewhere, while the VIP section at the reflecting pool served as something of a buffer for Trump’s event.

    In the shadow of the Washington Monument hours before Trump’s speech, the anti-war organisation Codepink erected a 20-foot tall “Trump baby” balloon to protest what activists saw as his intrusion in Independence Day and a focus on military might that they associate with martial regimes.

    “We think that he is making this about himself and it’s really a campaign rally,” said Medea Benjamin, the organisation’s co-director. “We think that he’s a big baby. … He’s erratic, he’s prone to tantrums, he doesn’t understand the consequences of his actions. And so this is a great symbol of how we feel about our president.”

    The balloon remained tied down at the Mall because park officials restricted the group’s permission to move it or fill it with helium, Benjamin said.

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