WASHINGTON, Jan. 18 (UPI) -- Inauguration festivities kicked off at the White House Friday as the president and first lady hosted supporters ahead of Sunday's official swearing-in.
"As is commonplace with past Administrations of both parties, the president and first lady today [Friday] hosted friends and supporters at the White House in advance of the president's inauguration weekend. The event was paid for by the Presidential Inaugural Committee," the White House said in response to reporters' questions about a benefactors' brunch and reception.
The official swearing-in will be held Sunday in accordance with the constitutional deadline, with ceremonial festivities, including two balls, scheduled for Monday.
Supporters say they're just as excited about President Barack Obama's second inauguration as they were his first, The Washington Post reported.
Patricia Leake, a restaurant management consultant from Raleigh, N.C., told the Post she plans to travel to Washington to attend the festivities. She said she attended the first inauguration as well.
"There is no way I'm not going to be there again," Leake said. "I don't expect it to be as historical as the first one. But it will be exciting, and it will show the faith we still have in him."
Washington author and poet E. Ethelbert Miller said Obama's re-election is as significant as when he was first elected in 2008.
"As an African-American, what you really got happy about was you realized white people could go and elect a black president not just once, but twice," Miller said.
"When President Obama stands at the lectern and speaks, he is speaking into the past 50 years to [civil rights leader] Dr. [Martin Luther] King," said Aaron Jenkins, 31. And Dr. King "50 years ago spoke in the future to Barack Obama."
Iraq bombings kill 23, Sunnis protest
BAGHDAD, Jan. 18 (UPI) -- Thousands protested in Mosul, Iraq, claiming Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shiite-led government discriminates against the country's Sunni population.
The protests Friday in Iraq's second-largest city mirrored demonstrations by the Sunni minority across Iraq, the Voice of Russia reported. They followed a series of bombings and shootings in Iraq Thursday targeting Shiites and security forces that killed 23 people and wounded 113, police said.
Twin car bombings struck Shiite pilgrims outside a mosque in al-Dujail, north of Baghdad Thursday, killing nine, China's official Xinhua news agency reported.
At least five people were killed when a bomb exploded at a stadium in Hilla, south of Baghdad, an Interior Ministry official said.
Another car bomb detonated Thursday in a parking lot near a Shiite shrine north of the holy city of Karbala, killing one and injuring 17, police said.
Roadside bomb explosions Thursday killed five people in Iraq's eastern province of Diyala and in the town of al-Husseinliyah, and a gun battle killed a police officer and two suspects in the city of Tuz-Khurmaro, provincial police said.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, Xinhua said, noting that observers see the latest wave of violence as an attempt by insurgent groups to stir sectarian strife among Iraqis, as the country tries to avoid a spillover of violence from neighboring Syria.
Army spouse club in same-sex dispute
FORT BRAGG, N.C., Jan. 18 (UPI) -- A woman who is married to a female Army officer says an offer for a so-called guest membership in an officers' spouse club at Fort Bragg, N.C., is offensive.
The spouse club had previously rejected a membership application by Ashley Broadway, who is married to Lt. Col. Heather Mack. Broadway said the private club told her in December she was ineligible for membership because she lacked a military ID -- a credential the military does not issue to same-sex spouses.
Military service is no longer prohibited for gay men and women, but the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act -- whose constitutionality will be considered this term by the U.S. Supreme Court -- forbids federal recognition of same-sex marriage.
The club said in a statement Broadway's application "would need to be studied" but the statement said the club does not "explicitly" require military ID for membership, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.
The group Thursday offered Broadway a "special guest membership" while the organization reviews its bylaws, but Broadway said the offer was "not only offensive, but ridiculous."
"My wife wears the same uniform as the spouses of (the club) and she's just as prepared to give her life for our country," Broadway said.
Stephen L. Peters II -- president of the American Military Partner Association, which advocates for lesbian and gay military families -- said the club amended its membership rules retroactively last month, the Times reported.
Officials at Fort Bragg have said the club is not violating any laws, but an Army spokesman said last week the Army intends to join the Marine Corps in ordering clubs on its bases to admit same-sex spouses, the Times reported.
School guard leaves gun in restroom
LAPEER, Mich., Jan. 18 (UPI) -- Officials at a charter school in Michigan said they were "improving school security" after a security officer at the school left a gun unattended in a restroom.
Matt Young, director of Chatfield School in Lapeer, said the security officer committed a "breach in security protocol Jan. 14 when he left an unloaded firearm unattended in the restroom "for a few moments," mlive.com reported Friday.
"The school has put additional security procedures in place that follow local law enforcement practices and guidelines," Young said in a statement. "At no time was any student involved in this breach of protocol. We will continue to work on improving school security."
He said no students were in danger but declined to provide details, including whether the school would take action against the guard, who was identified only as a retired Lapeer County Sheriff's Office employee.
Lapeer County Prosecuting Attorney Byron Konschuh said criminal charges were unlikely, since no one was injured.
"It's almost like no harm no foul," Konschuh said.