The new President of the United States said that the country can fulfil the promise that all are equal and free.

Speaking to a crowd of more than two million people in Washington DC, President Obama said:

“We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.

“The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.”

President Obama spoke directly to Muslims, and said he seeks a new way forward, “based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”

“To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West – know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.

“To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

“To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds.

“And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.”

President Obama concluded:

“America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come.

“Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.”

He took the oath of office just after noon (5pm GMT).

Minutes before Joe Biden took the Vice Presidential oath of office and Aretha Franklin sang Let Freedom Ring.

President Obama has pledged support for a wide-ranging programme of gay rights legislation, including federal protection at work, an end to bans on gays in the military and civil unions, but is not in favour of same-sex marriage.