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Ali salutes Obama at inaugural soiree

world Updated: Jan 20, 2009 12:44 IST

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Boxing great Muhammad Ali saluted the nation's first black president at an inaugural soiree.

Ali, celebrating his 67th birthday, was the guest of honour at a party on Monday for 1,400 that included other celebrities and lawmakers.

Ali will be sitting on the platform on Tuesday when Barack Obama is sworn in as the nation's first black president. And when that happens, Ali's wife predicts, a torch will have been passed.

"He wouldn't have missed this for the world," Lonnie Ali said after Monday night's Bluegrass Ball, a celebration of her husband's 67th birthday. Kentucky is the family's home state.

Muhammad Ali carried the dreams of a generation during his prime as an athlete, and later as a humanitarian.

"What's interesting is that Muhammad had time to grow into his role as being a world humanitarian," Lonnie Ali said.

Obama on the other hand "will inherit the world on his shoulders, not just the US And it is a much heavier burden than I think Muhammad had to face."

"But I think (Obama's) his shoulders are broad," she added.

"He and Muhammad are really made of the same fabric."

Ali, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, was the guest of honour at the Bluegrass ball, which hosted 1,400 people.

Native Kentuckian and actress Ashley Judd and artist Simon Bull unveiled a birthday gift to Ali -- a pair of portraits of the boxer and Obama.

The two appear in the painting depicting a close-up of Obama's face looking off into the distance.