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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 November, 2004, 21:41 GMT
Clinton library open for business
Former president Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton wants "to teach people what its like to be president"
Former US President Bill Clinton has opened his futuristic presidential library at a rain-soaked ceremony in Little Rock, Arkansas.

The $165m (88m) Clinton Presidential Center houses archives from his White House years, with one area dedicated to the fall-out from the Lewinsky affair.

Former US leaders George Bush and Jimmy Carter spoke, and the current President Bush praised his Democrat predecessor.

Rock star Bono sang, and Nelson Mandela sent a video tribute.

Up to 40,000 invited guests joined the dignitaries amid persistent rain at the site in the state capital where Mr Clinton served as governor before becoming president.

President Bush spoke warmly of Mr Clinton, calling him an "innovator, a serious student of policy and a man of great compassion".

I felt I owed it to my native state that allowed me to become president
Bill Clinton

"In the White House, the whole nation witnessed his brilliance and mastery of detail, his persuasive power and his persistence," Mr Bush said.

In reply, Mr Clinton praised Mr Bush's "vigilance" over Iraq, but warned: "While we have to fight our enemies, we can't possibly kill, jail or occupy all of them."

And he cautioned Americans over the dangers of social division, telling the crowd: "Everybody contributes, everybody has a responsibility to fulfil.

"Our differences do matter, but our common humanity matters more."

Sensitive design

The library, a futuristic glass-and-steel building, has been described by Britain's Economist magazine as "trailer-home chic".

It contains an estimated 80 million paper documents archived during Mr Clinton's eight years in the White House, as well as 21 million emails and two million photographs, Reuters news agency reports.

Image of the Clinton Library Building next to an old bridge on the property
The library was described as "trailer home chic" by one reviewer
Despite the bipartisan opening ceremony, correspondents say the design of the museum inside the centre may re-open some old divisions between supporters of Mr Clinton and his critics.

An assessment of the failed Republican attempt to remove Mr Clinton from office over the Lewinsky affair features prominently inside the centre.

The impeachment affair is portrayed as a struggle for power within the US between competing liberal and conservative interest groups.

Key phrases - including "character assassination", "politics of persecution" and "rumours and accusations" are given prominence, while the name of Monica Lewinsky - the intern with whom Mr Clinton had an affair - is mentioned just twice.

Other exhibits focus on the Whitewater property scandal and domestic welfare reform.

Mr Clinton, who was heavily involved in the design, said he hoped the library would teach Americans "what it's like to be president".

"So when people come, I hope they will see, whether they agreed or disagreed with what I did, that people in public life... embrace certain policies and those policies have consequences in the lives of people."

New development

The building is a box-like structure extending over the Arkansas River, built in a rundown warehouse district of Little Rock.

The Clinton and Bush families sat next to each other
The Clinton and Bush dynasties put aside their differences for the day
"I wanted to build a building that would capture the imagination of people today and in the decades to come," said Mr Clinton at a meeting of Little Rock's business community on Tuesday.

Mr Clinton said he "owed it" to his native state for allowing him to become president.

"I wanted to make a contribution to the development of this city I love so much," he said.

Designed by New York architect James Polshek, the library includes replicas of the Oval Office and Cabinet Room.

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