Sailing into a sea of problems

President-elect Barack Obama prepared to hold his first post-election news conference Friday as he lost little time in assembling an administration that is sailing into a sea of troubles.

With stock markets once again in freefall, Obama was to convene a meeting of his high-powered panel of economic advisers before the first press conference since his triumph in Tuesday’s election against Republican John McCain.

Obama will address the press at 1:30 pm (1930 GMT) in a Chicago hotel, his campaign said in a statement.

He spoke Thursday with the leaders of nine US allies — Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Mexico and South Korea — as the center of political gravity shifted away from President George W. Bush.

Ahead of a White House meeting with Bush on Monday, Obama appointed Illinois congressman Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff, making the pugnacious master of political wiles the first senior official to join the next administration.

Emanuel, 48, is a veteran of Bill Clinton’s White House credited with masterminding the Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives in 2006.

He has a reputation for being a bare-knuckles operative and a fierce Democratic partisan who has well earned his nickname of "Rahmbo."

"Now is a time for unity, and Mr. President-elect, I will do everything in my power to help you stitch together the frayed fabric of our politics, and help summon Americans of both parties to unite in common purpose," Emanuel said in a statement Thursday.

The appointment stirred the first post-election attacks from the demoralized Republican Party.

"This is an ironic choice for a president-elect who has promised to change Washington, make politics more civil, and govern from the center," said John Boehner, the Republican minority leader in the House.

Obama, a 47-year-old senator from Illinois serving his first term in Congress, was running the rule over his top cabinet picks including the all-important job of Treasury secretary as fears of a recession intensify.

Several names mentioned as potential Treasury overseers to command a 700-billion-dollar bailout for Wall Street were to attend Friday’s meeting here of Obama’s economic lieutenants.

They include former Treasury secretary Larry Summers, ex-Federal Reserve chief Paul Volcker and Laura Tyson, chairwoman of the National Economic Council under Clinton.

New York Fed chief Timothy Geithner is also in the media running for Obama’s Treasury secretary, after supervising the US central bank’s unprecedented explosion of intervention in the markets.

Bush said he had directed "unprecedented" cooperation between the White House and Obama before the Democrat is inaugurated on January 20, in the first presidential handover since the September 11 attacks of 2001.

"In the coming weeks, we will ask administration officials to brief the Obama team on ongoing policy issues ranging from the financial markets to the war in Iraq," Bush said at the White House.

The unpopular outgoing president also warned that terrorists may try to use the transition period to strike at the United States.

Obama said in a statement that he looked forward to meeting Bush, whom he lambasted on an almost hourly basis on the campaign trail.

"I thank him for reaching out in the spirit of bipartisanship that will be required to meet the many challenges we face as a nation," he said.

Aside from righting the listing US economy, 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.

The president-elect, who has spent the past two days catching up with his young family and thanking his exhausted campaign staff in Chicago, is already receiving classified CIA intelligence as he prepares to take over.

Obama received his first post-election national security briefing from Mike McConnell, Director of National Intelligence, at the FBI building in downtown Chicago Thursday.

ABC News meanwhile reported that Obama’s campaign chief strategist David Axelrod, one of the main architects of his election victory, had agreed to become a senior advisor in the White House.

But campaign communications czar Robert Gibbs told AFP that reports he would become the Obama administration’s public face as White House press secretary were "premature."