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Bush declines to join Obama at Ground Zero

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama invited former President George W. Bush to join him at ground zero in New York City on Thursday to mark the killing of Osama bin Laden, but Bush declined, a spokesman for the former president confirmed Tuesday.

"President Bush will not be in attendance on Thursday," said his spokesman, David Sherzer. "He appreciated the invite, but has chosen in his post-presidency to remain largely out of the spotlight. He continues to celebrate with Americans this important victory in the war on terror."

The White House did not confirm that the invitation had been made or comment on Bush's decision.

Obama has talked this week of his hope that the successful raid on the compound where bin Laden was hiding could serve as a unifying force in a country divided by battles over fiscal policy and many other issues. Many Republicans have praised Obama for the success of the operation.

On Monday, White House officials said Obama would go to Lower Manhattan to visit the site of the World Trade Center and meet with families of the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, which were masterminded by bin Laden.

Since leaving the White House, Bush has generally stayed out of the public eye and avoided commenting on his successor. He made an exception last year when Obama asked him and former President Bill Clinton to travel to Haiti after the earthquake as his emissaries.

Bush spent much of his time in office presiding over the hunt for bin Laden. A few days after Sept. 11, he made one of the most dramatic public appearances of his presidency, standing atop the smoldering ruins of the towers and speaking to rescue workers on a firefighter's bullhorn.