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Activists call for President Obama to close Guantanamo Bay

A protest on Inauguration Day

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In the waning minutes of his presidency, the image of George W. Bush appeared on the Jumbotron on the National Mall just a couple of hundred yards from the Washington Monument. His image prompted a chorus of boos from the massive crowd that converged Barack Obama's inauguration Tuesday.

Seconds later, 16-year-old D.C. native Simeone Alexander started singing "Sha Na, Na, Na, Hey, Hey, Hey, Good Bye," and the crowd joined in for an inglorious serenade to the president with the lowest final approval rating in history—just 22 percent.

One had to wonder if many of the hundreds of thousands of revelers had come as much to celebrate the departure of the Bush administration as to welcome the first African-American president.

"It's pretty much more of Bush leaving than Obama coming in," Alexander said. "Although the two things go hand in hand. It's more that I'm just happy to see Bush go."

Alexander said Obama will "definitely make a difference, but it's not really hard to say after the last eight years. It's not going to be some magic panacea for all the country's problems, but he'll definitely be better. I can only hope the poverty level shrinks, the financial gap shrinks, people get more health care, better schools. I can hope so much until he actually gets into office and actually starts to do something."

Alexander had come downtown just after dawn to celebrate the end of a nine-day fast by activists wearing orange jumpsuits and calling for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison.

"We welcome the new administration, an administration that has repeatedly promised to end the practice of coercive interrogation and torture," said one of the fast's organizers, Carmen Trotta. "We are mindful this morning that Guantanamo remains an ongoing crime. There are an estimated 250 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba."

Media reports estimate about one-fifth of the detainees—44—have gone on a hunger strike. Of those, 33 are being force-fed through tubes.

Scott Langley, a co-founder of the Raleigh Catholic Worker House, said he joined about 100 others to fast in solidarity with the detainees.

As a father, Langley said the transition of power gave him "that glimmer of hope. I'm still very cautious because I know that things aren't going to be perfect with Obama, but I do feel hope. The excitement here is contagious so it's hard not to get excited even if you don't necessarily agree with all his politics."

Obama has promised to close Guantanamo, but said he would not be able to accomplish it within the first 100 days of his presidency. During that first 100 days, many of the fasters and others said they plan to go to the White House daily to participate in a campaign to close Guantanamo.

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