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Ill. senator's victory praised from afar

On 4 continents, citizens proclaim US image boosted

Excitement about Barack Obama emerged as a global phenomenon yesterday, as commentators and citizens around the world welcomed the news that he had sealed the nomination. Excitement about Barack Obama emerged as a global phenomenon yesterday, as commentators and citizens around the world welcomed the news that he had sealed the nomination. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/associated press)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post / June 5, 2008

LONDON - For much of the world, Senator Barack Obama's victory in the Democratic primaries was a moment to admire the United States, at a time when the nation's image abroad is in tatters.

From hundreds of supporters crowded around televisions in rural Kenya, Obama's ancestral homeland, to jubilant Britons writing, "WE DID IT!" on the "Brits for Barack" site on Facebook, people celebrated what they called an important racial and generational milestone for the United States.

"This is close to a miracle," said Sunila Patel, 62, in New Delhi. "I was certain that some things will not happen in my lifetime. A black president of the US will mean that there will be more American tolerance for people around the world who are different."

The primary elections generated unprecedented interest around the world, as people in distant parliament buildings and thatched-roof huts followed the ups and downs as if they were watching a Hollywood thriller. Many people abroad seemed impressed - sometimes even shocked - by the wide-open nature of US democracy and the history-making race between a woman and a black man.

"The primaries showed that the US is actually the nation we had believed it to be, a place that is open-minded enough to have a woman or an African-American as its president," said Minoru Morita, a Tokyo political analyst.

Senator Hillary Clinton has admirers around the world, especially from her days as first lady, but interviews on four continents suggested that Obama's candidacy has most captured the world's imagination.

"Obama is the exciting image of what we always hoped America was," said Robin Niblett, director of Chatham House, a London think tank. "We have immensely enjoyed the ride and can't wait for the next phase."

In Kenya, Obama's victory was greeted with unvarnished glee. In Kisumu, close to the home of Obama's late father, hundreds crowded around televisions to watch Obama's victory speech yesterday morning, chanting, "Obama tosha!" which translates as, "Obama is enough!"

"Our fortunes as the people of Kenya are certain to change," said Salim Onyango, 32, a shoe shiner in Kisumu. "Obama knows our problems, and I'm sure he has them at heart. When he becomes president, he will definitely put in place support for us in Kenya."

Obama also has strong support in Europe, the heartland of anti-Bush sentiment.

"Germany is Obama country," said Karsten Voight, the German government's coordinator for German-North American cooperation. "He seems to strike a chord with average Germans."

Despite his Harvard Law School degree and comparisons to historical greats, Obama is an accessible and familiar figure for millions of people, particularly in poor nations.

His father's journey to America as a Kenyan immigrant resonates with millions of migrants. Many people interviewed said that the son's living in Indonesia for several years as a child doesn't qualify as foreign policy credentials, but it may give him a more instinctive feel for the plight of the developing world.

"He's African," said Nagy Kayed, 30, a student at the American University in Cairo. "He's an immigrant family. He has a different style."

In terms of foreign policy, Obama's stated willingness to meet and talk with the leaders of Iran, Syria, and other nations largely shunned by the Bush administration has been both praised and criticized overseas.

In Israel, Eytan Gilboa, a political scientist at Bar-Ilan University, said Obama's openness to negotiating with Iran and Syria has contributed to the sense that his Middle East policies are too soft.

In Latin America, Obama's recent declaration that he would meet with Presidents Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and Raul Castro of Cuba has been welcomed as a break from Bush policy.

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