Security was tight Saturday as the annual White House Correspondents' Association dinner kicked off, with President Joe Biden to make what is a traditionally lighthearted address amid protests and boycott calls over the conflict in Gaza.

A long list of VIP guests, including journalists and celebrities from Chris Pine to Molly Ringwald, arrived in black-tie attire as more than 100 protesters outside the Washington Hilton hotel chanted "shame on you" and other slogans while confronting attendees.

At the banquet, in keeping with longstanding tradition -- interrupted during the Donald Trump years -- Biden was seated on the dais ahead of the evening's comedy roast, this year to be delivered by Colin Jost of "Saturday Night Live."

Biden's every move has been shadowed for months by protesters angry over US support for the Israeli military offensive in Gaza. He has been met by shouts of "Genocide Joe" and noisy calls for an immediate ceasefire.

Protesters at one point unfurled an enormous, multi-story Palestinian flag from a window on the hotel's top floor, as others congregated on the road below holding placards, chanting and shouting from bullhorns.

More than two dozen Palestinian journalists this week issued an open letter urging their American colleagues to boycott the dinner.

"You have a unique responsibility to speak truth to power and uphold journalistic integrity," said the letter. "It is unacceptable to stay silent out of fear or professional concern while journalists in Gaza continue to be detained, tortured and killed for doing our jobs."

According to the New York-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ), at least 97 journalists -- including 92 Palestinians -- have been killed since war erupted on October 7 with Hamas's invasion of southern Israel. At least 16 others have been wounded.

- Demonstrations -

The group Code Pink, part of an anti-war coalition, said it intended to "shut down" the dinner to protest "the complicity of the Biden administration in the targeting and killing of Palestinian journalists by the Israeli military."

It said its action would be "nonviolent" but offered no details.

The Washington Metropolitan Police Department told AFP it was "prepared to facilitate any safe and peaceful demonstration" but that guests would also be able to access the event.

The gala dinner and a surrounding series of society events are taking place as the Gaza protest movement has been spreading to colleges across the country, and as police crackdowns on some campuses have led to hundreds of arrests.

Comedian Jost, a longtime writer and actor with NBC's "Saturday Night Live" was seated next to Biden on the dais as the dinner got underway. His wife, actress Scarlett Johansson, was also in attendance.

The 81-year-old Biden will follow Jost's roast with his own speech, sure to include some self-mockery, some ribbing of the press and, no doubt, some sharp-elbowed jabs at Trump, his presumptive opponent in November's presidential election.

The annual dinner has been organized since 1920 by the influential White House Correspondents' Association, which honors top reporters and awards journalism scholarships.

Last year, 2,600 people attended.