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Challenge of our lifetime!

CHICAGO: US President-elect Barack Obama said last night that the country was facing "the greatest economic challenge of our lifetime and we're going to have to act swiftly to resolve it".

However, in his first news conference since winning the presidency, Obama deferred to President George W Bush and his economic team, noting that the country has only one government and one president at a time.

But, he said, "immediately after I become president I will confront this economic crisis head-on by taking all necessary steps to ease the credit crisis, help hardworking families and restore growth and prosperity."

"I'm confident a new president can have an enormous impact," he added.

Obama spoke after he and Vice President-elect Joe Biden met privately with economic experts to discuss ways to stabilise the troubled economy.

More evidence of a recession came yesterday when the government reported that the unemployment rate had jumped from 6.1 per cent in September to 6.5pc last month.

Separately, Obama said Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons was "unacceptable" and the Islamic Republic must stop supporting "terrorist organisations".

He also confirmed that he had been sent a letter from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad following his victory.

"I am aware that the letter was sent," Obama said in response to the only question of the Press conference about foreign policy.

He called for an "international effort" to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

Obama also stressed, during the 20-minute Press conference, that he has not yet taken office and won't until January 20, 2009.

He downplayed expectations of a swift rollout of cabinet-level officials, including secretaries of the treasury and state, saying he would move with "deliberate haste" to get the decisions right.

Meanwhile, the Labour Department said 240,000 jobs had been cut last month, the 10th straight month of job losses, and new revisions meant that a whopping 651,000 workers have lost their livelihoods in the past three months alone.

But Obama's aides said there would be "no personnel announcements", following the incoming president's selection of combative Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel as his White House chief of staff.

Obama started his third day as president-elect with a parent-teacher meeting at his two daughters' school with his wife Michelle, a reminder that the next First Family will be the youngest in decades.

Meanwhile, most of the US-allied leaders are to attend an emergency summit of 20 nations on the economic crisis in Washington on November 15, but Obama has not yet announced whether he will take part in the event.

President George W Bush said he had directed "unprecedented" co-operation between his administration and Obama's staff before the Democrat is inaugurated in the first presidential handover since the September 11 attacks of 2001.

Obama said he will meet Bush on Monday in a spirit of bipartisanship.

One of Obama's most urgent priorities will be to wind down Bush's war in Iraq and redirect the military focus to hunting down Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

But getting the US economy back in shape will be priority number one for the freshman senator from Illinois who at 47 will be the fifth youngest US president to take office.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi called in an interview published in The Wall Street Journal for a two-stage effort involving a $60-100 billion (BD23-38bn) stimulus deal this month.

The California Democrat urged Congress to work together with the White House in the last days of Bush's term to pass the measure, the second such plan after a $150bn package was adopted in February.

Several names mentioned as potential Treasury overseers to command a $700bn banking bailout attended the economic advisory meeting with Obama and Biden.

Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, whose country's ties with Washington remain frosty, congratulated Obama on his election and said he hoped for "constructive dialogue" on Middle East peace.

l An immigration lawyer for Obama's aunt says she wants to fight a deportation order and stay in the US.

Zeituni Onyango is staying with relatives in Cleveland after fleeing her public housing apartment in Boston. She had been living there for five years.



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