The 55th US presidential swearing-in ceremony, and the first since the attacks of September 11th 2001, is scheduled to take place in front of the US Capitol at noon (1700 GMT) Thursday.

President Bush will use the occasion to launch his second term mindful in the White House, mindful of a legacy shaped by his self-declared war on terrorism and events in Iraq.

By Wednesday he’d reached the 21st draft of his inaugural speech, which was expected to run 17 minutes and focus on broad second-term priorities like battling terrorism and spreading democracy.

“I see the fact that people want to be free, they long to be free, and that freedom is beginning to take hold. I’m going to talk about this in my inaugural address,” he said in an interview this week with Fox News.

On Wednesday, he sought inspiration by visiting the National Archives, viewing George Washington’s 1789 handwritten inaugural address as well as the bible the first US president used for his oath.

He also mingled with some of the donors who have bank rolled the estimated $40m price tag for the festivities, as well as attending a ball where guests wore black tie and cowboy boots in a nod to the fashions of his adoptive home state of Texas.

Some of the most generous donors were rewarded with private dinners with Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney or other leading administration officials the guests of honour.

Security is tight in the US capital, with police patrolling the streets and Secret Service agents watching rooftops and the air.

After the hotly disputed 2000 election came to its controversial end, the US president had vowed to unite a deeply divided American public.

Despite his more comfortable winning margin this time round, it’s a theme he’ll repeat in this year’s speech.

“I have a responsibility to try to unite this country to achieve big things for all Americans. I will say that in my inaugural address,” he said.

But a recent survey found President Bush had a 51 percent approval rating, far lower than most other US presidents elected to a second term over the past 50 years.

“I try not to take things personally in the political world. I can remember people condemning Ronald Reagan decisions,” he told CNN.

“But he made some very difficult decisions which happened to be right in retrospect.”

As well claiming to have spread democracy in the Muslim world, President Bush says he’ll seek to make his massive tax cuts permanent and attempt to overhaul the government-run Social Security.

This last policy would be in defiance of widespread opposition from within his own Republican party.

Despite his support within in the US, President Bush remains highly unpopular in many counties across the globe.

According to a recent BBC global opinion poll, 58 percent believe his re-election has made the world more dangerous.

Many world leaders, alienated by Bush’s isolationist foreign policy and the US-led war in Iraq, would have preferred him to lose the U.S. election last November.

Since his victory, they have been urging him to listen and consult more, looking for signs the US will take a more “multilateral” approach on the challenges that lie ahead in Iraq, the Middle East, Iran and North Korea.

In a sign he wants to improve ties with Europe, Bush will visit Brussels next month and will soon meet two of his war critics separately — German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Mainz and French President Jacques Chirac in Washington.

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