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LIVE: President Trump speaks at ‘Salute to America’ celebration |

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LIVE: President Trump speaks at ‘Salute to America’ celebration

WASHINGTON (AP) — A soggy crowd filed to the Lincoln Memorial grounds for President Donald Trump’s “Salute to America” on Thursday as supporters praised his celebration of U.S. military clout and protesters assailed him for putting himself center stage on a holiday devoted to unity.

Trump was calling on Americans to “stay true to our cause” and declaring “the future of American freedom rests on the shoulders of men and women willing to defend it,” according to excerpts of his remarks released in advance by the White House.

A late afternoon downpour drenched the capital’s Independence Day crowds and presaged an evening of possible on-and-off storms, raising some suspense about whether Trump’s program of military flyovers and the city’s annual July 4 fireworks would be interrupted. The rain chased off a steady stream of people while others arrived, using plastic bags, ponchos and the covers of baby strollers for shelter.

By adding his own, one-hour production to capital festivities that typically draw hundreds of thousands anyway, Trump set himself up to be the first president in nearly seven decades to address a crowd at the National Mall on Independence Day. “I will speak on behalf of our great Country!” he said in a morning tweet. “Perhaps even Air Force One will do a low & loud sprint over the crowd.”

Protesters unimpressed by his “Salute to America” program inflated a roly-poly balloon depicting Trump as an angry, diaper-clad baby.

Trump set aside a historic piece of real estate — a stretch of the Mall from the Lincoln Monument to the midpoint of the reflecting pool — for a mix of invited military members, Republican and Trump campaign donors and other bigwigs. It’s where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I have a dream” speech, Barack Obama and Trump held inaugural concerts and protesters swarmed into the water when supporters of Richard Nixon put on a July 4, 1970, celebration, with the president sending taped remarks from California.

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