White House Egg Roll beats budget axe

WASHINGTON (AFP) - A venerable Washington tradition on Monday staved off the budget axe in an era of austerity, as President Barack Obama welcomed tens of thousands of people to the White House Easter Egg Roll.

Mr Obama and his family, appearing with the Easter Bunny and their dog Bo, officiated at egg rolling contests, storytelling and basketball and tennis demonstrations, at the annual event dating back to 1878.

There had been fears that the popular springtime event would be cancelled because of harsh budget cuts known as the "sequester" which have halted visitor tours of the White House and hit government contractors and federal spending.

But the event, backed by a lottery for 35,000 tickets went ahead, partly financed by sales of commemorative eggs signed by the president and First Lady Michelle Obama.

"The Easter egg roll is the biggest event that we have here on the South Lawn of the White House each year," Michelle Obama said.

"Today, we're going to have more than 30,000 people who will pass through this yard in celebration of nutrition and health and activity."

Since the Obamas moved into the White House, the Easter Egg roll has been linked to the First Lady's "Let's Move" campaign, designed to promote healthy eating and exercise for kids.

President Obama acted as honorary starter of an Easter Egg roll contest for young kids on the South Lawn and read a children's book called "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom" to a group of youngsters.

But he emerged red-faced from a bid to show off his vaunted basketball skills alongside NBA stars - taking 15 shots to net a basket and, to his evident annoyance, going 2-22 overall.

The first White House Easter Egg Roll took place in 1878, when president Rutherford Hayes invited local children to roll eggs on the South Lawn.

The egg roll has been held at the White House every year apart from the dark days of World War I and World War II.

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