Democrat Joe Biden was sworn in as president of the United States on Wednesday, assuming the helm of a country reeling from deep political divides, a battered economy and a raging coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 400,000 Americans.

With his hand on an heirloom Bible that has been in his family since 1893, Biden took the presidential oath of office administered by US Chief Justice John Roberts just after noon ET (17:00 GMT), vowing to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States”.

Biden, 78, became the oldest US president in history at a scaled-back ceremony in Washington that was largely stripped of its usual pomp and circumstance, due both to the coronavirus and security concerns following the January 6 assault on the US Capitol by supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump.

The norm-defying Trump flouted one last convention on his way out of the White House when he refused to meet with Biden or attend his successor’s inauguration, breaking with a political tradition seen as affirming the peaceful transfer of power.

Top Republicans, including Vice President Mike Pence and the party’s congressional leaders, attended Biden’s inauguration, along with former US Presidents Barack Obama, George W Bush and Bill Clinton. Jimmy Carter, 96, was the only living US president to not attend the ceremony, citing coronavirus concerns.

Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India, became the first Black person, first woman and first Asian American to serve as vice president after she was sworn in by US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the court’s first Latina member.

Harris used two Bibles, including one owned by Thurgood Marshall, the first Black US Supreme Court justice.

Thousands of National Guard troops were called into the city after the January 6 siege on the Capitol, which left five people dead and briefly forced lawmakers into hiding. Instead of a throng of supporters, the National Mall on Wednesday was covered by nearly 200,000 flags and 56 pillars of light meant to represent people from US states and territories.

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