WASHINGTON, (AFP) – Downtown Washington was fenced off and boarded up Wednesday, with concrete barriers blocking avenues, police at street corners, and armed National Guard soldiers patrolling Capitol Hill as Congress impeached President Donald Trump for a second time.
The city at the heart of US democracy has been a shadow of itself during pandemic shutdowns, but now it is also under heavy guard after the January 6 deadly attack by Trump supporters on the Congress building.
National Guard soldiers in body armour and camouflage spent the night inside the Capitol, their black rifles leaning against the polished stone walls of the building’s halls.
Some 20,000 National Guard soldiers are expected in Washington for Biden’s inauguration, more than the combined number of US troops officially deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Capitol building grounds are ringed by a security fence erected after the attack, similar to the one raised around the White House months ago when protests erupted nationwide against police killings of African Americans.
The city of more than 700,000 inhabitants is subdued, one week before the inauguration of Biden on the steps of the Capitol.
“The city is basically desolate,” said Nadine Seiler, 55, who has been demonstrating every day since the end of October near the White House in favour of anti-racist causes.
“Usually it’s very stressful, but here it’s like everybody’s away on vacation,” she added.
Crowds cheering Biden’s inauguration on January 20 will be thin on the ground, as authorities have urged Americans to avoid the city, fearing more violence.