Image: College students cheer while posing with cutout of Obama
Adnan Abidi  /  Reuters
College students cheer while posing with a cutout of President-elect Barack Obama at the American Centre in New Delhi on Wednesday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 11/5/2008 10:43:59 AM ET 2008-11-05T15:43:59

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday called Barack Obama's election to the White House a unique chance to usher in a new era of American cooperation with the rest of the world.

"I am confident today about future relations between the United Nations and the United States. I am confident that we can look forward to an era of renewed partnership and a new multilateralism," he said.

Ban and other top diplomats were optimistic about the prospects for Obama's presidency marking a sharp departure from Republicans' wariness and sometimes disdain for the world body.

"If ever there were a time for the world to join together, it is now: the global financial crisis; the crisis of climate change; the challenge of fulfilling our promises" for reducing global poverty, disease and other pressing U.N. development goals, he said.

'Historic opportunity'
Ban said Obama's sweeping victory in Tuesday's U.S. elections represents "an historic opportunity" for the world body and all nations, not least the United States, which hosts the U.N.'s New York headquarters and is its single biggest donor nation.

"No country has a stronger stake in a strong United Nations," he said.

South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo said Obama's ascendancy marks an important turning point and demonstrates to all nations that democracy can work well.

"Clearly an Obama administration will be less ideological," he said. "We just are going to say to him, 'Bring that same spirit to resolving problems in Africa.' So it's a great day. ... We need the U.S. to come along with us — with more enthusiasm now."

Enthusiasm across the globe
In concert halls and ballrooms, in plazas and at beach parties, people across the globe hailed Barack Obama’s election as a stroke for racial equality and voiced hopes his presidency would herald a balanced, less confrontational America.

Throngs crowded before TVs or listened to blaring radios for the latest updates. In Sydney, Australians filled a hotel ballroom; in Rio, Brazilians partied on the beach. In the town of Obama in Japan, dancers cheered in delight when their namesake’s victory was declared.

Observers — many in countries where the idea of a minority being elected leader is unthinkable — expressed amazement and satisfaction that the United States could overcome centuries of racial strife and elect an African-American as president.

Video: In Kenya, answered prayers become all-night parties “It shows that America truly is a diverse, multicultural society where the color of your skin really does not matter,” said Jason Ge, an international relations student at Peking University in China.

In an interconnected world where people in its farthest reaches could monitor the presidential race blow-by-blow, many observers echoed Obama’s own mantra as they struggled to put into words their sense that his election marked an important turning point.

“I really think this is going to change the world,” said Akihiko Mukohama, 34, the lead singer of a band that traveled to Obama, Japan, to perform at a promotional event for the president-elect. He wore an “I Love Obama” T-shirt.

Many acknowledged that — for better or worse — America’s economic, military and cultural might made the election globally important.

'Dare to dream'
Nelson Mandela, an international symbol of racial reconciliation and hope, was among the many around the world to congratulate Obama on his victory. South Africa's first black president said the election of America's first was a symbol of hope.

In a letter of congratulations released by his office Wednesday, Mandela said the Democrat's victory demonstrated that anyone can "dare to dream of wanting to change the world for a better place."

Mandela spent 27 years in prison for his anti-apartheid struggle, and was elected president in the first all-race elections in 1994. He retired from politics after serving one five-year term.

The 90-year-old Mandela has increasingly withdrawn from public life, but has remained a respected figure in South Africa and beyond.

A slew of current leaders sent their congratulations to the president-elect, which is usual in the wake of such a victory. What marked a difference this election, however, was a thread of urgency that ran through the messages pouring in from around the world.

"Senator Obama's message of hope is not just for America's future, it is also a message of hope for the world as well. A world which is now in many respects fearful for its future," said Kevin Rudd, Australia's Prime Minister.

Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, called on Obama to address the current international crisis.

"We need a new deal for a new world. I sincerely hope that with the leadership of President Obama, the United States of America will join forces with Europe to drive this new deal. For the benefit of our societies, for the benefit of the world," he said.

More international cooperation?
On streets around the world, people celebrated and mourned the results of the American election.

Australian Phil Keeling was plastered head-to-toe in a red, white and blue outfit with both Obama and McCain buttons as he crowded into a hotel ballroom in downtown Sydney, Australia to watch election results on two giant TV screens.

“There’s a chance the image of the U.S. may change dramatically, and it’s nice to be part of it,” he said. He refused to say which candidate he preferred. Around him, Australians and Americans stood under a cloud of red, white and blue balloons and snacked on American treats like mini hamburgers and hot dogs.

Hopes were also high among many critical of President Bush’s policies that an Obama victory would herald a more inclusive, internationally cooperative U.S. approach. Many cited the Iraq war as the type of blunder Obama was unlikely to repeat.

At a party in Rio de Janeiro, where Brazilians and Americans watched the returns, a 33-year-old music producer said an Obama win would show that “Americans have learned something from the bad experiences of the Bush administration.

“Choosing Obama is a great opportunity for Americans to show the world they can change, be humble and learn from their mistakes, which were not small,” said Zanna, who uses only one name.

Watching with rapt attention
Umang Khosla, a senior marketing manager in Mumbai, India, with a multinational shipping company, said Obama would be widely welcomed after Bush, who he said “was hated the world over.”

“With Obama, the world will see the Americans as having more sense, being more receptive to change,” Khosla said on his way to work. “If Obama even remotely changes things, perceptions will change.”

Obama’s victory capped a campaign that many millions around the world had watched with rapt attention.

In Germany, where more than 200,000 people flocked to see Obama this summer as he burnished his foreign policy credentials during a trip to the Middle East and Europe, the U.s. election dominated television ticker crawls, newspaper headlines and Web sites.

Obama-mania
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.

The Bush administration alienated Muslims with its treatment of prisoners at its detention center for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and of inmates at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison — human rights violations also condemned worldwide.

Nizar al-Kortas, a columnist for Kuwait’s Al-Anbaa newspaper, saw an Obama victory as “a historic step to change the image of the arrogant American administration.”

Yet McCain had enjoyed a strong current of support in Israel, where he was perceived as tougher on Iran than Obama. Taking a cigarette break on a Jerusalem street corner, bank employee Leah Nizri, 53, favored McCain.

“He’s too young,” she said of Obama. “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.”

'Mere promises'
Not everyone expected Obama to follow through on his promise to change U.S. policies. In Iraq, where the Bush government ignited a war in 2003 that has yet to end, some were skeptical of American intentions in the Middle East.

“I think Obama’s victory will do nothing for the Iraqi issue nor for the Palestinian issue,” said Muneer Jamal, a Baghdad resident. “I think all the promises Obama made during the campaign will remain mere promises.”

Still, many around the world found Obama’s international roots — his father was Kenyan, and he lived four years in Indonesia as a child — compelling and attractive.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Obama has support – and weight – of the world

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