(photo credit: AP)
Around the world, throngs packed outdoor plazas and pubs to await US elections results Tuesday, many inspired by Democratic candidate Barack Obama's promise of change amid a sense of relief that - no matter who wins - the White House is changing hands.
As millions of voters decided between Obama or Republican John McCain, the world was abuzz with the sense of bearing witness to a moment of history that would reverberate well beyond American borders.
"America is electing a new president, but for the Germans, for Europeans, it is electing the next world leader," said Alexander Rahr, director of the German Council on Foreign Relations.
In Kenya, Obama's ancestral homeland, the atmosphere was electric with pride and excitement as people flocked to all-night parties to watch election results roll in.
"Tonight we are not going to sleep," said Valentine Wambi, 23, a student at the University of Nairobi who planned to join hundreds of other students in the Kenyan capital for an election party. "It will be celebrations throughout."
The Irish village of Moneygall was also trying to claim Obama as a favorite son - based on research that concluded the candidate's great-great-great grandfather, Joseph Kearney, lived there before emigrating to the United States.
The entertainment at Moneygall's Hayes Bar, where an American flag fluttered outside the window Tuesday, included a local band called Hardy Drew and the Nancy Boys that has been winning air time with its rousing folk song "There's No One as Irish as Barack Obama."
"We're not going to go mad with the drink," said Ollie Hayes, who runs the pub. "We just want to show Barack that we appreciate he's from here, to have some finger food and watch the early results come in with the media."
In Germany, where more than 200,000 people flocked to see Obama this summer as he moved to burnish his foreign policy credentials during a trip to the Middle East and Europe, the election dominated television ticker crawls, newspaper headlines and Web sites.
In Paris, among the more irreverent festivities planned was a "Goodbye George" party to bid farewell to US President George W. Bush.
"Like many French people, I would like Obama to win because it would really be a sign of change," said Vanessa Doubine, shopping Tuesday on the Champs-Elysees. "I deeply hope for America's image that it will be Obama."
The election has also yielded the occasional prank. When 37-year-old Patrick Lindqvist woke up Tuesday in the southern city of Malmo, Sweden, he found six mock campaign posters for McCain planted just outside his house.
"It's obviously a prank, but I have no idea who did it," said Lindqvist, who is not involved in US politics in any way. "If I had been able to vote in the American election I would doubtless have chosen a young black man instead of an old white man."
Obama-mania was evident not only across Europe but also in much of the Islamic world, where Muslims expressed hope that the Democrat would seek compromise rather than confrontation.
"I hope Obama wins [because] of the need of the world to see the US represent a more cosmopolitan or universal political attitude," said Rais Yatim, the foreign minister of mostly Muslim Malaysia.
Yet McCain enjoyed a strong current of support in countries such as Israel, where he is perceived as tougher on Iran, and most Israelis are believed to favor McCain on the grounds he would do more to protect the country's security.
Israeli leaders, who consider the US their closest and most important ally, have not openly declared a preference. But privately, they have expressed concern about Obama, who has alarmed some by saying he would be ready to hold a dialogue with Teheran.
Taking a cigarette break on a Jerusalem street corner, bank employee Leah Nizri, 53, said Obama represented potentially frightening change.
"I think he'll be pleasant to Israel, but he will make changes," she said. "He's too young. I think that especially in a situation of a world recession, where things are so unclear in the world, McCain would be better than Obama."
Even in Europe, McCain got some grudging respect: Germany's mass-circulation daily Bild lionized the Republican as "the War Hero" and running mate Sarah Palin as "the Beautiful Unknown."
In Berlin, Republicans Abroad organized a "November Surprise Election Party" to watch live "how the Republican ticket McCain/Palin comes from behind and leaves the 'liberal elite media' in Europe and the United States puzzled."
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown clung to convention by refusing to say which candidate he wanted to see win. Regardless of the outcome, he told Al-Arabiya television while on a tour of the Gulf, "history has been made in this campaign."
London Mayor Boris Johnson - a conservative - felt less constrained about rooting for the liberal Obama.
"For those who have become disenchanted with America - including many Americans - (Obama) offers the hope of reigniting the love affair," he said.
And other Europeans made much of Obama's ethnicity. "It's a sort of pardon of America for its slave past," said Alain Barret, a bank teller in Paris. "It lets America turn an important page in its history."
"It would be fantastic to have a non-white president," added Letisha Brown, a Londoner.
Kenyans believe an Obama victory wouldn't change their lives much, but that hasn't stopped them from splashing his picture on minibuses and selling T-shirts with his name and likeness. Kenyans were planning to gather around radios and TV sets starting Tuesday night as the results come in.
In the sleepy Japanese coastal town of Obama - which translates as "little beach" - images of him adorned banners along a main shopping street, and preparations for an election day victory party were in full swing.
Election fever also ran high in Vietnam, where McCain was held as a prisoner of war for more than five years after being shot down in Hanoi during a 1967 bombing run.
"He's patriotic," said Le Lan Anh, a Vietnamese novelist and real estate tycoon. "As a soldier, he came here to destroy my country, but I admire his dignity."
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