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The BBC's Jane Hughes in New York
"60,000 fireworks brought the celebrations to a fitting close"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 4 July, 2000, 23:05 GMT 00:05 UK
Tall ships mark Independence Day
New York harbour
The largest flotilla ever seen in peace time
The United States has been marking its first Independence Day of the new millenium with a huge maritime parade in New York harbour.

Operation Sail 2000 - the biggest gathering of ships ever seen in peace time - is the highlight of 4 July celebrations and involves 150 tall ships from 50 countries, 40 modern warships and up to 70,000 pleasure craft.

Four million spectators have been watching the event, which ends after dark with a display of some 60,000 fireworks containing 150 tonnes of explosives.

Against the spectacular backdrop of the Statue of Liberty, the parade of tall ships sailed into sight following a fireboat spewing out huge streams of red, white and blue water.

Our ancestors came here on immigrant ships and slave ships - we must resolve never to close the golden door behind us

President Clinton
The line of seafaring craft of all shapes and sizes stretched 17 kilometres (11 miles) in length.

It slowly made its way through the harbour, and past the aircraft carrier USS John F Kennedy where President Bill Clinton was among those watching from the flight deck.

In a symbolic gesture, he then granted citizenship to 20 immigrants and made a speech calling for the equality and dignity of immigrants to be recognised.

"Our ancestors came here on immigrant ships and slave ships," the president reminded his audience. "We must resolve never to close the golden door behind us."

'Sacred honour'

He also evoked the courage of those who launched the nation more than two centuries ago.

President Clinton
President Clinton called for equality for immigrants
"As the armies eyed each other across this channel, the Declaration of Independence arrived from Philadelphia," Mr Clinton said.

"George Washington ordered it to be read aloud to the troops.

"It was at the tip of Manhattan island, just to our north, where the troops first heard they were actually citizens of a new nation, and where they first pledged their lives, their fortunes, their sacred honour."

Celebrations began earlier in the day with a spectacular display from the tall ships, which sailed past the Statue of Liberty, up the Hudson River to the George Washington Bridge and back again.

President Clinton started his review of the colourful flotilla from the battle cruiser USS Hue City, and more than 5,000 guests watched the spectacle from vessels moored nearby.

The Eagle
The 295-foot tall ship the Eagle sails past the World Trade Centre
About halfway through the review, grey clouds and a haze lifted, giving the president a better view of the New York skyline and the more than 18,000 US and foreign sailors who participated.

Some stood at attention on the decks of their ships and saluted Mr Clinton, his wife Hillary and daughter Chelsea, as they passed.

Maritime traffic

One of the star attractions was the reconstructed slave ship Amistad.

The story of the 129-foot (39-metre) schooner and the 53 African slaves who mutinied and took control of her was popularised in a 1997 film by Steven Spielberg.

Tall ship sails past the statue of liberty
The sail past celebrated a long tradition of seafaring
With so many vessels in New York's harbour, US coastguard officials were well prepared for what they expected could be the maritime equivalent of a massive traffic jam.

Captain Richard Bennis, in charge of Coast Guard activities, said: "This is like directing traffic in Times Square on New Year's Eve."

Before the event, the vice-president of Operation Sail 2000, Greg Perrin, said he believed the gathering was "the largest assemblage ever of tall ships and naval vessels".

Operation Sail was established by President John F Kennedy in 1961, and the first such celebration was at the World Fair in New York in1964.

Others have coincided with milestones such as the 1976 US bicentennial celebrations and the 500th anniversary in 1992 of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the Americas.

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04 Jul 00 | Americas
In pictures: Operation Sail 2000
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