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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 November 2005, 15:32 GMT
Bush honours Ali with mock punch
President George Bush presents Muhammad Ali with the Medal of Freedom
President George Bush pretended to throw a jab at Muhammad Ali
Boxing legend Muhammad Ali has been awarded America's highest civilian honour by President George Bush.

The president drew laughs by assuming a mock boxing posture while presenting the former heavyweight champion with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Mr Bush called Ali the "greatest of all time", in a ceremony at the White House at which 13 others were also honoured.

Among them were US Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, singer Aretha Franklin and golfer Jack Nicklaus.

The ceremony was the first public appearance for Ali, who has Parkinson's disease, in several months.

Placing the medal round his neck, Mr Bush described the 63-year-old as a fierce fighter, a man of peace and the greatest boxer of all time.

Muhammad Ali gestures to President Bush at the White House medal ceremony
Ali gestured to Mr Bush that he would be mad to take him on
"As Muhammad Ali once said, 'It's not bragging if you can back it up.' And this man backed it up," the president said.

"Across the world, billions of people know Muhammad Ali as a brave, compassionate and charming man."

The boxer responded to Mr Bush's mock punch by twirling a finger at his head, a gesture indicating the president would be crazy to take him on.

Ali dominated boxing in the 1960s and 70s but was stripped of his heavyweight title in 1967 for refusing to fight in the Vietnam War. He later won back his title after his conviction was overturned on appeal.

Mr Greenspan's award comes ahead of his retirement next January after 18 years in charge of the US Federal Reserve.

Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, AP
Muhammad Ali
Carol Burnett
Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn
Robert Conquest
Aretha Franklin
Alan Greenspan
Andy Griffith
Paul Harvey
Sonny Montgomery
General Richard B Myers
Jack Nicklaus
Frank Robinson
Paul Rusesabagina
His era was known for "phenomenal economic growth, high productivity, and unprecedented innovation and opportunity for all our citizens", Mr Bush said.

Other medal recipients included internet pioneers Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn, who co-created the basic networking protocol that keeps the net running to this day.

The president praised Aretha Franklin as "still the best singer in the world, bar none".

The medal is generally given to those who have made exceptional contributions to America's security or world peace, or have had a significant impact on the nation's cultural life.

Past recipients include Doris Day, Pope John Paul II and Edward Teller.

US President Harry Truman established the medal in 1945 and it was initially intended to recognise significant civilian contributions to the war effort. It was revived in 1963 by John F Kennedy as a reward for distinguished service to the American nation.

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