Around the world, citizens praise America's president-elect Barack Obama

LONDON — Through tears and whoops of joy, in celebrations that spilled onto streets on distant continents, people around the globe called Barack Obama's election a victory for the world and a renewal of America's ability to inspire.

By electing a youthful African-American with chestnut-colored skin, the United States has chosen a man whose face seems familiar and comforting in most of the world.

From Paris to New Delhi to the beaches of Brazil, revelers said Obama's election made them feel more connected to America, and that America, after years of strained relations, seemed suddenly more connected to the world.

"As a black British woman, I can't believe that America has voted in a black president," said Jackie Humphries, 49, a librarian who partied with 1,500 people at the U.S. Embassy in London Tuesday night.

"It makes me feel like there is a future that includes all of us," she said, wrapping her arm around a life-size cardboard likeness of the new U.S. president-elect.

"Americans overcame the racial divide and elected Obama because they wanted the real thing: a candidate who spoke from the bottom of his heart," said Terumi Hino, a photographer and painter in Tokyo. "I think this means the United States can go back to being admired as the country of dreams."

Kenya, where Obama's father was raised as a goat-herder, declared Thursday a national holiday, and people danced in the streets wrapped in the American flag in Obama's ancestral village of Kogelo.

In South Africa, Nelson Mandela, the civil rights icon who helped bring down his country's apartheid regime, released a letter to Obama that said, "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."

Desmond Tutu, another iconic anti-apartheid leader and the retired Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, said Obama's victory tells "people of color that for them, the sky is the limit."

"We have a new spring in our walk and our shoulders are straighter," Tutu said, echoing a commonly held sentiment across the continent.

The world sees Obama as more than a racial standard-bearer, of course, and many praised Obama for his policies on everything from Iraq to health care, which are known to the world in remarkable detail.

Even in the more distant corners of the globe, large audiences followed the presidential election as never before, and television viewers and radio listeners worldwide heard Obama's acceptance speech and the concession by Republican Sen. John McCain.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown congratulated Obama for "energizing politics with his progressive values and his vision for the future."

Amadou Toure, the president of the West African nation of Mali, told French radio, "The United States has given a lesson, a lesson in maturity and a lesson in democracy. The essential considerations that prevailed were really the considerations of a man who had a program."

In China some people interviewed worried about Obama's positions on the delicate issues of Tibet and Taiwan. Some Indians and Egyptians said they had questions about Obama's views on Pakistan and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev congratulated Obama and said he hoped the two would have a constructive dialogue — even as he reminded in a separate speech that issues such as the financial crisis and the recent war in Georgia have strained the relationship.

Many people, in dozens of interviews around the world Tuesday night and Wednesday, also said they understood that any new president could not immediately change the United States or the world.

But many said Obama's election was a powerful signal that the United States intended to change direction.

"For the first time I feel the phrase, 'I hereby declare that all men are crated equal,' from the U.S. Declaration of Independence, really came to life for me today," said architect Mamdouh al-Sobaihi, a guest at a post-election reception Wednesday in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. "U.S. history has returned to its roots. The forefathers would be very pleased with today's election," he said.

"Today the United States said not 'We want change' but 'We have changed.' America's message to the rest of the world is that we have changed."

Saudi journalist Samir Saadi said that Obama's election means "the U.S. has won the war on terror." "Given Obama's name, his background, the doubts about his religion, Americans still voted for him and this proved that America is a democracy," he said. "People here are starting to believe in the U.S. again."

For many, Obama's election came with an almost visceral sense of relief that it signaled the beginning of the end for the administration of President Bush, who has become extremely unpopular in much of the world.

A recent BBC poll found that people in all 22 nations the network surveyed preferred Obama by a wide margin to McCain, who was widely identified with Bush and the Republican Party.

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

In Germany, Benjamin Becker, 25, who studies English and history in Cologne, flew to Berlin for a party celebrating Obama's victory — which he said would brighten global perceptions of the United States.

Becker, who spent a year in Atlanta on a Fulbright scholarship, said he had been "saddened" by America's diminished standing in the world in recent years.

"I remember 10 years ago when the United States was my absolute dreamland," Becker said. "Now I still am partial to the U.S., but the Bush years were detrimental for the country. I hope it will be much different now."

Correspondents Edward Cody in Paris, Emily Wax in New Delhi, Blaine Harden in Tokyo, Maureen Fan in Beijing, Mary Jordan in London, Mary Beth Sheridan in Baghdad, Joshua Partlow in Rio de Janeiro, Phil Pan in Moscow and Thomas Erdbrink in Tehran, special correspondents Karla Adam in London, Shannon Smiley in Berlin and Faizah Ambah in Jeddah and researcher Zhang Jie in Beijing contributed to this report.

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