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Obama wins world's embrace

In the past eight years, Americans have seen their flag burned in Jordan and Egypt, their embassies attacked in Serbia and the Philippines, their leaders criticized by Europeans, Africans and South Americans.

But with the election of its first black president, America on Wednesday was again seeing millions of people worldwide praise it as a symbol of hope, opportunity and the power of democracy.

"All day, I've had friends and students coming up to me and saying, 'Now you can be proud to be American again,' " said Scott Blinder of New Jersey, who teaches at Britain's Oxford University.

Sen. Barack Obama's victory was cheered from his ancestral homeland of Kenya, where the government declared today a national holiday, to Indonesia, where hundreds of students at his old elementary school danced in the rain, to Obama, Japan, where residents sported "I love Obama'' T-shirts.

Most world leaders joined in the congratulations, clearly hoping Obama's presidency will provide the kind of leadership and fresh ideas that have been scarce in the waning days of the Bush administration.

Europe needs Obama's "energy, his rejection of injustice and his determination to go forward to build a safer, fair and more stable world,'' said French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. "Together, we must seize this historic opportunity to combine our efforts to meet the economic, climate and security challenges that face us all.''

Even Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a combative foe of Bush, congratulated Obama on the "historic election of a descendant of Africans" and called for "new relations" between the two nations.

A far cry from the day when portraits of John F. Kennedy hung in homes around the world, America's reputation abroad plunged during the Bush years despite the initial burst of support after the 9/11 attacks. The war in Iraq, the abuses at Abu Ghraib, the disdain for longtime allies — "old Europe,'' as it was dismissively called — were viewed as evidence of an America grown arrogant and imperial.

From the early primaries, much of the planet has been transfixed by the story of Barack Hussein Obama, whose ties to Africa and Asia made him seem a true citizen of the world. During a European tour last summer, he drew crowds in Berlin and elsewhere that surpassed those of even the biggest rock stars.

By Tuesday's election, polls showed overwhelming support for Obama in most countries. Reflecting the unprecedented interest were banner headlines — "Make the world better!'' urged a German tabloid — and nonstop TV coverage that transformed pubs in Ireland and malls in the Persian Gulf into election-viewing centers.

"I didn't sleep this night in Israel because I was following the results and biting my nails,'' said Abraham Diskin, a political scientist at Israel's Hebrew University. When a reporter phoned Wednesday morning, Diskin still had the TV on, listening as former Prime Minister Ehud Barak recalled the positive impression Obama made during a July visit.

Still, Israelis are of mixed mind about Obama, who faces enormous foreign policy challenges with two wars, the nuclear ambitions of Iran, a newly assertive Russia, the always tense Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a long line of countries that will want him to put their interests first.

A majority of Israelis backed McCain, long a hawkish supporter of Israel, while "there is more uncertainty with Obama because this is not a person that was in decisionmaking positions in the past,'' Diskin said.

"On the other hand, very close to half of the Jewish population have hopes that Obama will be more involved in the peace effort (with Palestinians)," he said, "and will exercise pressure on both sides to promote if not the possibility of peace, at least a peace agreement.''

In Pakistan, an often troublesome U.S. ally, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani wasted no time telling Obama that the United States must stop missile attacks on Taliban and al-Qaida targets inside the country or risk losing the war on terror.

Other Pakistanis, though, preferred to let Obama relax a bit and savor his victory. "Support for him has been extremely positive,'' says Mueen Afzal, Pakistan's former finance secretary. "Compared to the Bush administration, Obama is a breath of fresh air, really.''

Information from Times wires was used in this report. Susan Taylor Martin can be contacted at susan@sptimes.com.

Obama wins world's embrace 11/05/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 12, 2008 5:00pm]
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