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Elation, Skepticism As World Reacts To Obama Win

Democrat Barack Obama's election as the first black president of the United States was greeted with a range of emotions — from joy to disappointment to skepticism — around the globe.

In places such as Europe and Africa, many expressed hope for better relations with the U.S. under the Obama administration. Elsewhere, people questioned whether Obama's victory would make a difference for them. Many Iraqis said they didn't expect the Democrat to accomplish big changes in U.S. policy there, and some Israelis worried about Obama's level of experience.

Here's a look at reaction from around the globe:


Iraq And Afghanistan

The two countries where the United States is currently involved in wars had an especially strong interest in the outcome of the presidential election.

Obama's victory came as no surprise to most people in Iraq, though. The news media had been covering the campaign closely and reporting Obama's lead in the polls.

Iraqis who favored McCain tended to see him as more committed to Iraq's security. Ali Sadik, a Turkmen politician in Iraq's northern oil city of Kirkuk, said Obama is still young and doesn't have the foreign policy experience to help maintain stability in Iraq, which is essential to stability in the region.

People who support Obama tend to see him as an agent of change who is likely to withdraw American forces from Iraq more quickly than McCain would have. But some people view Obama as an inspiration.


Salim Shaban, the deputy head of a civil rights organization for Iraqis of African descent in Iraq's second-largest city, Basra, said Obama's victory shows that the United States is a mature democracy on its way to racial equality.

But many Iraqis said the next president won't really be able to make big changes in U.S. policy toward their country.

"Everybody knows that American policy is already planned. It does not depend on who is becoming the chief," said Nabil Hassou, a cardiologist in Erbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdish region.

In Afghanistan, the U.S. Embassy invited scores of Afghans to watch the U.S. election results at a party at Kabul's Serena Hotel — where a well-planned Taliban bombing and gun attack in January grabbed world headlines. Organizers even set up an unofficial polling station for Afghan visitors to cast ballots. The result: 74-3 for Obama.

One voter who cast a pretend ballot was Jamila Mujahed, who runs the Voice of Afghan Women radio station. She said she believes Obama will pay more attention to Afghanistan and bring needed security and development.

Sebghatullah Sanjar, who heads President Hamid Karzai's policy department and Afghanistan's Republican Party, was one of the few Afghans who voted for McCain in the pretend election. He said he supported McCain because he has more experience than Obama and spent his life fighting for democracy, both in the military and political arena.

Outside the hotel, U.S. and Afghan security forces blanketed the area. Afghan police said earlier that in another part of Kabul, militants targeting NATO bases fired a rocket that killed one Afghan in his home.


Africa has been rooting for Obama from the very moment he announced he was running for president of the U.S. The election victory of the son of a Kenyan father was being celebrated and savored all over the continent.

In Kenya, the villagers of Kogelo, who are neighbors of the Obama family, had offered 10 bulls for a feast on Wednesday — and more offers were coming. Food is the greatest gift in what is some of the most fertile farmland in all of Kenya, where mangos, bananas, corn and tomatoes grow among red-budded flame trees.

Sarah Obama, 86, is the paternal grandmother of the president-elect and a farmer herself.

"She's very happy about what has happened, and she's happy not just for herself but for the whole world," said Obama's Kenyan sister, Ouma, who served as interpreter.

The people of Kogelo, and the Obama family in particular, have been at the center of a two-year media blitz. As a sign of the strain — or perhaps as a sign of being 86 — Sarah Obama took a nap before facing reporters outside her tidy little blue-roofed house. She said she plans to attend the inauguration in January — but may die of happiness at the airport.

Otherwise, Ouma Obama added, they don't expect life to change much with an Obama in the White House.

"As a family ... we support Barack but we have no expectations. Because we are very, very clear that this is something he's doing in America and that he's an American president," she said.

The area of southwestern Kenya where the Obama family lives is home to the Luo tribe. So far in Kenya, there has never been a Luo president. For years, people have said that a Luo had a better chance of becoming president of the United States than the president of Kenya. Apparently, they were right.

The feeling throughout Africa is that Obama has an open mind and will cooperate with other countries and continents. Among some Africans, there are great hopes and expectations that an Obama administration will help the world's poorest continent.

Many in Zimbabwe praised Obama for an inspirational and peaceful campaign, galvanizing young people to vote and advocating national unity and togetherness. In a divided country that witnessed pre- and post-election violence this year, Obama's message of hope, harmony and change was poignant.

"It means peace, peace in the whole world, in Zimbabwe, in Africa, in Iraq," said Hosia Maka, a hotel worker in the capital, Harare. "Oh, in Iraq, I will be happy if there is peace in Iraq. Yes. It is a great victory for the African people as well."

South Africa's first black president, Nelson Mandela, added his letter of congratulations to the flood of messages reaching America's first black president-elect, Obama, from all over the world.

Wishing Obama strength and fortitude as he faces the challenges ahead, Mandela wrote: "Your victory has demonstrated that no person anywhere in the world should not dare to dream of wanting to change the world for a better place. We applaud your commitment to supporting the cause of peace and security around the world. We trust that you will also make it the mission of your presidency to combat the scourge of poverty and disease everywhere."

Middle East

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, 42-year-old taxi driver Abdul Karem had a spring in his step and a smile on his face as he grabbed his morning coffee Wednesday at the Stars and Bucks Cafe, the Palestinian Starbucks knockoff. Karem had been deeply skeptical that America would ever elect an African-American to the nation's highest office.

"The American people sent a very great message to the world today," he said. "They did not discriminate between white and black. ... Even whites in the U.S. voted for Obama regardless of his color. The American people want change."

Other Palestinians called it an incredible moment. Mustapha Barghouti, an independent Palestinian lawmaker, said he hopes Obama will do what President Bush did not: build a substantive peace process that changes facts on the ground.

"I think [he] has great potential to make a difference and make change," Barghouti said. "A two-state solution is at stake here and if he doesn't move quickly, we could see the disappearance of that possibility."

In West Jerusalem, Israelis reacted with a mix of optimism and caution. At a cafe, Erez Goldman, a dual U.S.-Israeli national, voiced skepticism. He called Obama untested and inexperienced.

"I'm very worried, very worried, because I don't know who's surrounding Obama and I have no idea what his plans are for the Middle East," he said. "He says he's going to talk to Hamas, he's going to talk to Iran, he's going to do — who knows? We're going into the unknown and that worries me."

But Israeli architect Yoram Fogel said he thinks Obama will finally move the peace process forward. "Something special and something different is going to happen now," he said. "The whole normal things that we are used to, daily politics is going to be changed from now on."


Europeans rejoiced over Obama's election after eight years of an extremely unpopular Bush presidency.

Paris lawyer Ahmed Kelifi said the U.S. had redeemed itself. "I love America today. I've seen the first black president in America. I'm sure the world is going to change," Kelifi said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy expressed hopes for closer collaboration between Europe and the United States in his congratulations to the president-elect Wednesday.

"With the world in turmoil and doubt, the American people, faithful to the values that have always defined America's identity, have expressed with force their faith in progress and the future. At a time when we must face huge challenges together, your election has raised enormous hope in France, in Europe and beyond," Sarkozy wrote in a letter of congratulations.

People in Britain woke up Wednesday morning to blanket news coverage of the historic events unfolding across the Atlantic. It had been no secret that many wanted Obama to win the election.

The United States is still broadly admired, but the bridge to America had been broken by hostility among the people — if not the politicians — toward President Bush. Now there is a feeling that bridge can be fixed, as Prime Minister Gordon Brown made clear in his congratulations to Obama.

"I believe that values that I share with Sen. Obama and the policies we hold in common are indeed the way to take us through these difficult times," he said. "And I hope to be able to work with Sen. Obama to bring the world together."

British newspapers have been quick to remind Obama that there are plenty of international problems for him to solve. The Times of London warns that anyone who thinks an Obama administration will be able to solve them all will be disappointed. But for now, many in Britain are simply relishing the reinstatement of America in their minds as a place that can be admired.

In Russia, however, reactions to Obama's election victory have been muted at a time when relations between the two countries are near Cold War levels. The U.S. presidential campaign offered Russians a stark contrast to their own highly managed elections, but many said they didn't care which candidate won.

In the early morning hours, people gathered inside an American diner in central Moscow to watch the election results. Most were foreigners. The small handful of native Russian speakers present didn't want to give their full names.

Irina, from the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, said Russians have been paying attention to the election campaign because it matters who leads a country as powerful as the United States. But, she said, Russians didn't see a real difference between McCain and Obama.

Russian politicians bridled at McCain's call to kick Russia out of the Group of Eight leading industrial countries and his fierce denunciation of Moscow's invasion of Georgia earlier this year. But analyst Kiril Rogov says in private, most politicians wanted McCain to win.

"Russian officials were ready for the kind of old-style confrontation a McCain presidency appeared to offer," he said. "Obama has promised a new model of foreign relations, and that worries Russian politicians."

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev sent a telegram congratulating Obama on his victory. Medvedev said he hoped to have "constructive dialogue" with the new administration.

However, Medvedev has already indicated Moscow will not be changing its hard-line rhetoric toward Obama's administration. In a state of the nation address Wednesday, Medvedev lashed out against what he called selfish U.S. foreign policy and announced Moscow will set up a new missile base near the Polish border.


The Chinese seemed more interested in the state of the world's economy and their financial links with the United States than in the election's result.

But even in China, Obama was the people's choice. Opinion polls indicated two-thirds of Chinese people favored Obama, believing his racial background would give him a more international outlook.

Officially, China's President Hu Jintao said he hopes bilateral ties will reach a new high. But Anthony Zhao, a Shanghai chef married to an America, said Beijing traditionally prefers dealing with Republicans.

"The Chinese government doesn't really like Obama," he said. "Obama will put more pressure on Beijing on trade, human rights and other issues."

Major policy changes are unlikely, but frictions may emerge. Most ominously for Beijing, Obama has accused China of manipulating its currency.

"That may lead to a possible trade war between the two countries," said Wu Xinbo of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University. "But at this moment, I would view it more as ... campaign rhetoric rather than [as a] possible policy instrument. I don't think he would be so reckless."

-- By Corey Flintoff in Iraq, Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Afghanistan, Gwen Thompkins in Kenya, Ofeibea Quist-Arcton in Zimbabwe, Eric Westervelt in Israel, Eleanor Beardsley in France, Rob Gifford in Britain, Gregory Feifer in Russia and Louisa Lim in China.

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