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Page last updated at 22:22 GMT, Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Obama pledges 'era of openness'

Obama: 'Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency'

US President Barack Obama has issued executive orders on government ethics and transparency as part of a packed first full day in office.

The measures include curbs on lobbying and a pay freeze for senior White House staff. Federal employees will have to sign up to new ethics procedures.

The new president said he was beginning "a new era of openness" in government.

Later Mr Obama and his advisers are to discuss the economic crisis - as well as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Earlier judges suspended several of the military trials of terror suspects at Guantanamo, following Mr Obama's call for all cases to be suspended, made hours after his inauguration.

Mr Obama arrived at the Oval Office at 0835 on Wednesday, the White House said.

Families are tightening their belts, and so should Washington
Barack Obama

The new president read the note left to him by his predecessor George W Bush in an envelope marked "To: #44, From: #43".

Mr Obama telephoned four Middle Eastern leaders - President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel, King Abdullah of Jordan and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

"He used this opportunity on his first day in office to communicate his commitment to active engagement in pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace," the White House said.

The president later attended a prayer service at Washington's National Cathedral - a tradition dating to the time of George Washington.

President Obama in the Oval Office with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel
President Obama's first day was packed with duties

After returning to the White House, Mr Obama announced his first executive orders saying he wanted a "clean break from business as usual".

The new rules ban aides from lobbying the administration when they leave his staff and emphasises the importance of "qualifications, competence and experience" in the recruiting of government staff.

Officials are also banned from receiving gifts from lobbyists.

Announcing the pay freeze for senior officials, Mr Obama said: "Families are tightening their belts, and so should Washington."

Stimulus

The economic crisis is expected to be high on his agenda on his first day. The president is due to meet advisers to discuss his $825bn rescue plan, which Congress is expected to approve next month.

Mr Obama is also due to meet military advisers. He has promised to withdraw combat troops from Iraq within 16 months.

GUANTANAMO BAY
A photo of President Obama is placed in the military headquarters of Guantanamo Bay.

He said that on his first day in office he would give commanders there a new mission - to end the war.

On the Guantanamo cases, military judges have agreed to suspend six trials. They include proceedings against five men accused of plotting the 11 September attacks.

The judge halted their trial despite the fact that four of the five - including alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed - opposed the proposed suspension during a court hearing on Wednesday.

Earlier, the judge in the separate trial of Omar Khadr - a Canadian man accused of killing an American soldier in Afghanistan in 2002 - also agreed to suspend the case.

Meanwhile the US Senate, which traditionally moves swiftly to approve a new president's Cabinet, has confirmed the appointment of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. She was endorsed by a 94-2 majority on Wednesday.

The vote had been postponed after a Republican senator demanded a debate about foreign donations to a foundation headed by her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

Apology

On Tuesday the Senate approved six Cabinet members, including Janet Napolitano as homeland security secretary and Steven Chu as energy secretary.

Several other positions are still to be confirmed.

Timothy Geithner, the nominee to head the treasury department, faced the Senate finance committee on Wednesday to explain his initial failure to pay payroll taxes he owed while working for the International Monetary Fund.

He apologised to the committee, saying he had been careless but that he had "paid what I owed".

Mr Obama last week called Mr Geithner's tax problems an embarrassment but an "innocent mistake".

Other Obama nominees still to be confirmed are Eric Holder as attorney general, and Tom Daschle as head of health and human services.

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