• Kyodo

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The opening ceremony of the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival was held beside the Potomac River in Washington on Sunday, attended by first lady Laura Bush.

The 3,000 cherry trees along the river were a gift from the people of Tokyo in 1912 and are forecast to be in full bloom by Saturday.

Festival organizers said the appearance of the first lady reflects the importance the new administration of President George W. Bush places on the Japanese-U.S. alliance.

The first lady said she hopes to sustain long-term friendship and cooperation between the two countries. She also helped crack open a cask of sake with Japanese Ambassador to Washington Shunji Yanai.

The festival is due to continue until April 8 and will include parades and an open-air kabuki performance.

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