Day of service honours King's legacy ahead of Obama's inauguration

Obama anticipates trouble sleeping night before inaugurationWashington- One day before the inauguration of Barack Obama as the United States' first African-American president, Americans celebrated the birthday of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr with acts of community service across the country.

The outpouring of generosity comes amid final preparations in Washington for the lawmakers, dignitaries and as many as two million Obama supporters who were expected to flood the capital's historic National Mall for the swearing-in ceremony on Tuesday.

Obama hoped to turn the annual celebration of King's legacy into a "day of service" - a prominent theme during his two-year campaign for the presidency. He began the day visiting wounded US soldiers at Walter Reed Medical Center and later planned to have a lunch with community volunteers.

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

In the evening, three high-profile Americans were to be honoured for their own service to the country: Colin Powell, former US secretary of state; John McCain, Obama's Republican rival for the presidency and a Vietnam War hero; and Joe Biden, Obama's running mate and a 36-year veteran of the US Senate.

Millions from across the country have descended on Washington to witness Obama's historic inauguration as the 44th president, filling hotel rooms as far as 400 kilometres away from the city.

The inauguration party already got underway Sunday when hundreds of thousands of people flocked to the Lincoln Memorial for a two-hour concert, the first of a series of festivities leading up to the presidential oath of office on the Capitol steps.

The star-studded lineup for the free, public show on a freezing afternoon under cloudy skies featured performances by Beyonce, Bono, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder, but the real star of the day was no singer.

Obama, 47, watched the concert with his wife Michelle and two children and received a huge ovation when he arose, waved to the crowd and strode to the podium to address the masses.

The concert was a sort of warm-up event for authorities, who are preparing for even larger crowds and even colder weather on the Mall on Tuesday. The festivities area opens for the public at 4 am Tuesday morning.

President George W Bush has no public events planned on his last day in the White House. As per tradition, Bush will accompany Obama to his swearing-in Tuesday before making a low-key departure to his Texas home. (dpa)