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US celebrates Independence Day

world Updated: Jul 05, 2009 08:08 IST

Fireworks lit up the skies across the United States on Saturday, as Americans commemorated the nation's 233rd anniversary with barbecues, live music and other festivities.

In Washington, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle invited some 1,200 military families for evening Independence Day celebrations at the White House.

"Just imagine the extraordinary audacity it took, 233 years ago, for a group of patriots to cast off the title of 'subject' for 'citizen'," Obama said.

The first family's backyard bash, complete with red, white and blue celebratory bunting, was also a celebration of the 11th birthday of the Obama's oldest daughter Malia, who sported an American flag painted on her right cheek.

The All-American event boasted games like volleyball and mini-basketball, an American flag made out of balloons and other festive decorations, but also a traditional July 4 menu, complete with hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad, corn on the cob, ice cream, sodas and beer.

Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden held celebrations of his own with American troops in Baghdad, including his soldier son Beau, and gave a speech mocking executed Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein.

"We did it in Saddam's palace and I can think of nothing better," Biden said, referring to a naturalization ceremony of 237 men and women, most Mexicans and Filipinos, at Al-Faw Palace near Baghdad airport.

"That SOB is rolling over in his grave right now," he said of Saddam.

Biden joined hundreds of US troops dining in a canteen decked out in red, white and blue streamers and tablecloths.

Across the country, flags everywhere -- flown over storefronts, on lawns, on shirts, hats, but also painted on cheeks and fingernails -- greeted sightseers and locals alike.

The New York Times devoted its back cover to a full page reprint of the Declaration of Independence, while the nation's capital received hundreds of thousands of visitors for an annual concert and fireworks show that began with a parade down the broad Constitution Avenue.

For the first time in 18 years, a parade was held through the historic district of Philadelphia, where the declaration was signed on July 4, 1776. A concert headlined by folk rock singer Sheryl Crow kicked off festivities before fireworks got underway.

In the country's biggest fireworks display, over 22 tons of pyrotechnics exploded over the Hudson River in New York, launched after dark from six barges spread across a distance of 25 city blocks.

It was the first time since the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington that the show takes place on the Hudson River and not the East River.

And in another first since the attacks, the Statue of Liberty's crown reopened to the public in New York.

In Florida, Orlando's Disney World showcased the latest figure in its "Hall of Presidents" -- Barack Obama -- while a 200-pound (91-kilogram) loggerhead sea turtle named after the popular US leader was set free in Key West.

Ahead of thousands of fireworks displays across the country, the Consumer Product Safety Commission warned Americans to handle explosives carefully, and television stations played the agency's cautionary safety videos, complete with mannequins getting pulverized by the explosions.

Police departments also issued their annual lists of prohibited fireworks, hoping to keep to a minimum the unofficial -- and sometimes illegal -- displays that usually accompany the American holiday.