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Bush claims 43rd presidency

AUSTIN, Texas, Dec. 13, 2000 (UPI) - Texas Gov. George W. Bush accepted Vice President Al Gore's concession and claimed victory in the contested 2000 White House race to become the 43rd president of the United States.

"I am thankful to the American people for the great privilege of being able to serve as your next president," Bush said in an acceptance speech broadcast nationwide.

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Earlier in the evening, Gore called Bush and dropped his legal challenge to Florida election results in the wake of Supreme Court rulings upholding Bush's narrow victory of the state's crucial 25 Electoral College votes, which handed him the presidency by 537 ballots.

"Vice President Gore and I put our hearts and hopes into our campaigns," Bush said. "We both gave it our all. We shared similar emotions. I understand how difficult this moment must be for Vice President Gore and his family."

Bush also said he and Gore agreed to meet in the coming days.

"We agreed to meet early next week in Washington and we agreed to do our best to heal our country after this hard fought contest," Bush said.

The speech marked the end of an historic political saga, which left the presidency undecided for more than a month after elections Nov. 7 fell into confusion over conflicted results in Florida while Gore led by 337, 576 in the popular vote.

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"Whether you voted for me or not, I will do my best to serve your interests, and I will work to earn your respect," Bush said.

In Washington, Gore offered a brief concession speech, saying accepted the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling while strongly disagreeing with it.

"Tonight, for the sake of the unity of our people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession," Gore said.

Gore pledged to work with Bush to heal the divisions that the election battle caused among the American people, suggesting that "this belatedly broken impasse can point us all to a new common ground. For its very closeness can remind us that we are one people with a shared history and a shared destiny."

The vice president asked his supporters to stand behind Bush to help him successfully govern, and said "I personally will be at his disposal."

The battle for the presidency effectively ended Tuesday night, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a proper recount of disputed ballots in Florida could not be completed by the Dec. 12 deadline for certifying Electoral College votes, which expired two hours later.

Gore waited overnight as his campaign studied the ruling, but at midmorning he ordered recount activities ended in Florida and scheduled the 9 p.m. speech, prompting Bush to begin drafting his acceptance remarks.

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(With reporting by Mark Kukis and Paul Singer in Washington)

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