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Obama inauguration gets world welcome

The giant "YES, WE CAN!" that Norbert Aschenbrenner carved in huge block letters at the U.N. complex in Vienna on Tuesday was a poignant expression of how many people in the international community are embracing Barack Obama.
/ Source: The Associated Press

It was just a scribble in the snow.

But the giant "YES, WE CAN!" that Norbert Aschenbrenner carved in huge block letters at the U.N. complex in Vienna on Tuesday was a poignant expression of how many people in the international community are embracing Barack Obama.

Aschenbrenner works for the International Atomic Energy Agency, which went up against President George W. Bush before the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Bush administration said Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction; the IAEA insisted its inspectors had found no evidence of any.

Aschenbrenner said he felt compelled to do something to express his pleasure with the change of leadership in Washington. "So I came in early today, at 7 a.m., and felt a bit like a graffiti sprayer," he said.

U.N. workers peered down at the giant slogan from their office windows and snapped photos with their cell phones.

By midafternoon, it had mostly melted away.

"We trust this is not a metaphor for how quickly the vision of Obama will be dissipated!" said Neil Jarvis, an IAEA official from South Africa. "May it rather last for a long, long time."

Baghdad, Iraq
Hussein Mohammed Ali, a teacher in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, took special pride in watching Barack Obama take office as president of the United States. "He's a black man like me," the jubilant Ali said.

Ali is among about 350,000 Iraqis with African ancestry — descendants of slaves brought to Iraq when it was part of the Ottoman Empire. Many of them live in the Basra area, where they feel marginalized in Iraqi society.

"I feel so proud and happy today because Obama, a black man like me, will assume the post of president of the world's most powerful country," Ali said. "The great event taking place today represents compensation for all the years of deprivation and denial that black people lived through."

Like many Iraqis, the 28-year-old is looking to the Obama administration to bring changes to U.S. policy in Iraq, where nearly six years of conflict have left society traumatized and anxious for peace.

"Obama will bring positive changes to Iraq by changing American policy toward our country," Ali said.

Jakarta, Indonesia
Barack Obama spent four years as a boy in Indonesia's capital, and students at his former school performed traditional dances from across the world's most populous Muslim nation in his honor Tuesday.

Old classmates also joined in the celebration at the Menteng 1 elementary school, where Obama is fondly remembered as a chubby kid nicknamed Barry.

"I'm proud that the next president is someone who I have shared time with," said Rully Dasaad, who also was a Boy Scout with Obama. "It was a crucial time for children our age. It is when we learned tolerance, sharing, pluralism, acceptance and respect of difference in cultures and religions."

Bogota, Colombia
Sugarcane-cutting descendants of African slaves were given Tuesday off in Puerto Tejada, a violence-wracked town of 45,000, where they watched Barack Obama's inauguration on a giant TV screen and celebrated with dancing and singing.

"The people here see themselves represented in Obama," Mayor Elver Montano said. "President Barack Obama could us help a lot, promote dialogue, give resources and money to help improve people's livelihood."

He said America's first black president got 95 percent of the votes in a mock election held in Puerto Tejada. A tenth of Colombia's 44 million people identify themselves as Afro-Colombiano and they have been among the hardest hit by political violence.

Frankfurt, Germany
Ron Larsen waited for this day for the entire lives of his two 8-year-old sons.

"All they've ever heard about is Bush," Larsen said Tuesday at an inauguration-viewing party sponsored by Democrats Abroad Frankfurt. "This will finally be the America I want them to have."

The 48-year-old native of Xenia, Ohio, who has worked at an information technology firm in Germany for 16 years, joined others in snacking on hot dogs and sipping beer and soda while watching the inauguration on TV at the Museum of Communication.

"If I had three words for Barack Obama it would be 'public health insurance,'" said Dennis Phillips, 65, who recently received a liver transplant through Germany's state health care system.

A retired journalist and spokesman for Commerzbank, Phillips said Obama's inauguration marked a return to America's founding ideals.

"We're a much better country than we've been in the last eight years. We're better than Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld. We're not a militaristic might, but a democracy."

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Standing outside the Cantagalo slum, where ramshackle shacks climb a steep hill with stunning views of Rio's beaches, Alex Andrade, an unemployed black Brazilian, expressed hope Tuesday that Barack Obama will bring change to his nation.

"Blacks face so much discrimination here. Now with a black man in charge of such an important country, it might help decrease the racism in Brazil," the 24-year-old said. "I never thought I'd see a black man with so much power. It is giving hope to all the people who live here."

Just off Ipanema beach, Marco Aurelia Pereira, a 53-year-old white businessman, stood in a bathing suit and sipped cold beer in a small bar where a television showed the inauguration. He said he was certain Obama would be better for not only Brazil, but the world.

"He has taken over a country at one of its lowest points," Pereira said. "But the U.S. always seems full of surprises, and I'm sure he'll help you bounce back."

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Saleh al-Mohaisen drew on his cigarette as he pondered the significance of Barack Obama while taking a break outside his jewelry store Tuesday.

He said he was elated at Obama's election and is sure the 44th president will be better than his predecessor, whom many Saudis accuse of bringing wars to his region.

"I wanted to send him a letter by courier to wish him well and explain how Muslims and Arabs feel," al-Mohaisen said. "I felt that he could understand Arab suffering."

But the 34-year-old shopkeeper also said he was concerned about Obama's lack of comment on recent fighting in the Gaza Strip.

"His silence over the massacres in Gaza has made me wary of him," al-Mohaisen said, but added: "I love him despite his silence. I feel we share the same blood."

Hong Kong
The Madame Tussauds museum unveiled a wax statue of Barack Obama on Tuesday in honor of the new American president.

A red sheet covering the statue dropped as "Hail to the Chief" played in the background. Mounted in front of a U.S. flag surrounded by red, white and blue balloons, the sculpture depicts Obama in a dark suit and tie with red stripes, arms folded and flashing his trademark smile.

Athens, Greece
While people around the world celebrated Barack Obama's inauguration Tuesday, about a dozen people in Greece begged to differ.

Not far from the U.S. Embassy, Costas Fotakis stood under a banner reading "Obama is not change." He said he expected little from the new U.S. president.

"We believe that U.S. policy doesn't come from the president but from oil companies and arms firms," said Fotakis, a member of the Greek Anti-War Movement and organizer of the tiny protest. "The same policies, one way or another, will continue, with or without Bush."

Anti-American sentiment still runs high in Greece, where many people believe the U.S. encouraged and supported the military dictators who ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974.

Lima, Peru
A dozen faith healers gathered for Barack Obama's inauguration, stomping their feet, dancing, shaking rattles, blowing smoke and chanting the new president's name while throwing flower petals and coca leaves at his photograph.

The ancient Andean ritual is known as Jatun Sonjo, or "Big Heart" in the Quechua language spoken during Peru's Inca empire.

"In ancient times it was one of the rituals dedicated to Inca and pre-Inca rulers. Today we dedicate it from Peru to Obama because he is the first black president and his heart is big for the whole world," said lead shaman Juan Osco of the Apus-Inka association.

The shamans, who came together Tuesday from Peru, Brazil, Mexico and Bolivia, said they hoped to protect Obama and give him the strength to pull U.S. troops from Iraq, close the Guantanamo Bay prison and usher in world peace.