US Vice President Al Gore was to address the American public Monday in a bid to keep his presidential hopes alive after Florida officially declared Republican George W. Bush the winner by a scant 537 votes.
Gore planned to address the US public at noon Washington time (1700 GMT), seeking to seize the initiative from the Texas governor, who has already laid claim to White House late Sunday after the contested Florida recount.
Some six million Floridians had cast ballots in the closest, and arguably most disputed, US election ever.
"Secretary Cheney and I are honored and humbled to have won the state of Florida, which gives us the needed electoral votes to win the election," Bush said, referring to his running mate, former defense secretary Dick Cheney.
"We will therefore undertake the responsibility of preparing to serve as America's next president and vice president," Bush said in Austin, Texas.
But even before Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris certified Bush as the winner shortly after 7:30 pm (0030 GMT Monday), the Gore camp announced plans to file lawsuits against three counties that it says did not follow correct guidelines in recounting the vote.
The Bush team, however, stepped up its calls for Gore to drop the challenges and concede defeat in the protracted presidential race, which has taken a series of astonishing twists and turns since Americans went to the polls on November 7.
"The vice president's lawyers have indicated he will challenge the certified election results. I respectfully ask him to reconsider," said Bush.
"If the vice president chooses to go forward, he is filing a contest to the outcome of the election, and that is not the best route for America."
Gore's running mate, Senator Joseph Lieberman, left little doubt however that the Democrats would fight on.
"Vice President Gore and I have no choice but to contest these actions," he said in Washington, shortly after Bush was certified the winner in Florida.
"The secretary of state of Florida has decided to certify what by any reasonable standard is an incomplete and inaccurate count of the votes cast in the state of Florida," Lieberman said, noting that Harris had rejected partial manual recounts submitted by Palm Beach.
A noisy crowd of several hundred demonstrators, many of them Bush supporters, milled outside Harris' office in the Florida capitol, and erupted in cheers when she pronounced Bush the winner of Florida's 25 electoral votes.
But the result must still survive the Gore lawsuits which the Democrats are expected to file on Monday against Miami-Dade, Nassau and Palm Beach counties in a circuit court in Tallahassee.
Arguing for an end to the lawsuits, former secretary of state James Baker, Bush's top legal advisor, said: "At some point, the law must prevail and the lawyers must go home. We have reached that point."
Because of the Gore camp's intention to carry through with its suits, Baker said Bush was unable to withdraw an appeal to the US Supreme Court seeking to overturn the Florida Supreme Court's order that Harris include manual recounts in her certified election results.
"They intend to contest the election result ... so, obviously, we cannot dismiss our request to the (US) Supreme Court," he said of the hearing that is scheduled for Friday.
Nationwide, Gore had a 267-246 edge over Bush in the split of decisive electoral votes awarded on a state-by-state basis. However Florida's 25 electors will put Bush over the top in the Electoral College where a majority -- 270 votes -- is needed to win the White House.
Harris and her three-member canvassing commission have been under extreme pressure and under the media spotlight since the controversy over the Florida vote count erupted following the election.
She reminded the public certification ceremony that she had intended to certify the votes one week after the elections as stipulated by state law, but had been prevented from doing so by the Florida Supreme Court, which set Sunday's deadline.
"This has been a tough election," said Bob Crawford, a member of the commission. "It has not always been pretty. But we got the job done, and we got it done right."
He continued: "I have to keep reminding people, the only thing that's going on here is that we've got a razor-thin election for the most important job in the world," Crawford said -- TALLAHASSEE (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)