World hails Obama victory

Posted at 11/06/2008 2:29 AM | Updated as of 11/06/2008 2:31 AM

World leaders, friends and foes, hailed Barack Obama's “brilliant” triumph Wednesday in the US presidential election as the dawn of a new era and called for the global superpower to change the way it does business as well as for urgent action to stem the global financial crisis.

As Obama's supporters celebrated around the world, a national holiday was declared in Kenya -- where his father was born -- and in Sierra Leone, six newborn babies were even named after the president-elect.

Nothing could stop the wave of optimism that spread out from the United States after Obama's victory over Republican rival John McCain.

South Africa's iconic first black leader Nelson Mandela wrote in a message to Obama: "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.

"We wish you strength and fortitude in the challenging days and years that lie ahead," he added.

President Mwai Kibaki, who has declared a national holiday on Thursday to mark Obama's victory, said: "This is a momentous day not only in the history of the United States of America, but also for us in Kenya."

Pope Benedict XVI sent a telegram of congratulations to Obama to hail the "historic occasion".

French President Nicolas Sarkozy extended his "warmest congratulations" to the 47-year-old Democratic senator.

"By choosing you, the American people have chosen change, openness and optimism," added Sarkozy.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown welcomed the victory as an historic moment.

China's President Hu Jintao said in a written message: "In a new historical era, I look forward to... taking our bilateral relationship of constructive cooperation to a new level."

Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso pledged to work with the new US leader to strengthen relations, while Indian Premier Manmohan Singh called it an "extraordinary" victory,

Turning dream into reality

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd referred to Martin Luther King's landmark "I have a dream" speech for equality 45 years ago. "Today what America has done is turn that dream into a reality," he said.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in a statement: "This is a time for a renewed commitment between Europe and the United States of America."

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who was himself elected president in March, called for "constructive dialogue" in a message to Obama.

Earlier however, in his first state-of-the-nation address, he announced that short-range Iskander missiles would be based in the western territory of Kaliningrad to "neutralise" US missile defence plans.

Rethink war on terror

With wars in Iraq and Afghanistan heading White House priorities abroad, there were also calls to rethink the US "War on Terror" launched by US President George W. Bush after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The "'War on Terror' cannot be fought in Afghan villages.... Afghanistan is the victim of terrorism," Afghan President Hamid Karzai said.

Obama's election would not lead to a quick US disengagement from Iraq, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said.

"We don't think there will be change in policy overnight. There won't be quick disengagement here. A great deal is at stake here," Zebari told AFP.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the result showed that Americans wanted "basic changes in US foreign and domestic policy," the official IRNA news agency reported.

"We hope the new US government can fulfill its people's demand to distance itself from the present statesmen's wrong approaches," he added.

Outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he was certain US-Israeli ties would strengthen under Obama.

"Israeli-US relations are a special relationship based on values and common interest, with tight cooperation," he said in a statement.

Change in relations

Latin American governments -- including some recently hostile to the United States -- on Wednesday hailed with one voice Barack Obama's election as the next US president.

The region, which has been generally asserting its independence after decades of being treated as the United States's back yard, pinned huge expectations on Obama and his mantra of "change."

Cubans expressed hope that the ascension of the Democrat who has pledged to talk to US foes could finally ease the 46-year-old US economic embargo on the Americas' only communist government.

Cuban allies Venezuela and Bolivia echoed that wish, and said they saw a chance to reverse the course of their own bilateral ties with the United States which had plunged to chilly lows under the administration of President George W. Bush.

Staunch friends of the US, notably Mexico and Colombia, were also quick to congratulate Obama, while cordial but distant nations such as Brazil added their accolades.

The head of the Organization of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza, summed up the overriding sentiment by telling Chilean radio: "There is absolutely no doubt that the United States is going to change after yesterday (Tuesday)."

But, he said, he hoped for specifics.

"Latin America is hoping for cooperation more than general speeches."

Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela and the most vociferous critic of the United States, said in a statement he hoped the vote would open "new relations between our countries and with our region, on a basis of respect of sovereignty, equality and true cooperation."

Chavez, whose country is the fourth-biggest oil supplier to the United States, in September kicked out the US ambassador and has regularly accused Bush of fomenting plots against him.

From a discriminated sector

Bolivian President Evo Morales, another hard-left US critic who has also expelled the US ambassador to his country, and who last weekend ended cooperation with US anti-drug officials, saw parallels between himself and Obama.

The US president-elect, son of a black Kenyan father and white mother from Kansas, "is a man who comes from one of the most discriminated sectors," said Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president.

He said his "biggest wish is for Mr Obama to lift the economic blockade on Cuba and withdraw troops from some countries." That last appeared to be a reference to Iraq.

In Cuba, Havana residents celebrated into Wednesday the election of a man they see as capable of ending their isolation imposed under another Democrat, John F. Kennedy.

"We hope that things will start to change," said a 32-year-old law student, who heard the US election results from a neighbor with an illegal cable connection in a Havana suburb.

Obama has said he is ready to talk about easing restrictions on travel and on the money US Cubans send home to family and friends.

Ailing former leader Fidel Castro -- who remains first secretary of the ruling communist party although out of the public view -- on Tuesday called Obama "intelligent, well-educated and composed" in an endorsement released in the official press.

New stage in relations

President Felipe Calderon of Mexico, which has close cultural and economic ties with the United States, sent a letter to Obama inviting him to visit and saying he hoped for a "new stage" in relations.

The other chief US ally in the region, Colombia, sent a message via its foreign ministry saying it wanted to "continue working on areas of common interest."

Colombian analysts, such as Daniel Garcia Pena, said however that Colombian President Alvo Uribe could suffer with Obama in the White House, after having invested so heavily in the ideology and positions of Bush, whose deep unpopularity helped deliver Obama's triumph.

Brazil, Latin America's biggest economy, said it backed a new US position on Cuba and Venezuela.

"We aren't going to deny that the Brazilian government had a good, pragmatic relationship with the Bush government," Foreign Minister Celso Amorim told O Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper.

"But now the relationship can be refined, and we hope to establish a relationship of partners with the new US government," he said.

Costa Rica welcomed Obama's win saying it had "energized democracy" in the United States. El Salvador congratulated Obama, and Deputy Foreign Minister Eduardo Caliz said San Salvador looked forward to potential progress on US immigration reform. Salvadoran-Americans send home 18 percent of the country's GDP in remittances.

Guide global action on financial crisis

Obama stepped into his new role on Wednesday facing calls for urgent action to stem the global financial crisis as he was hit with gloomy news about US jobs.

A day after his historic election as America's first black president, Obama heard a chorus of congratulations from around the world but also warnings about the creeping global recession that will crowd the top of his agenda along with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

World leaders expressed hope Obama could guide the international community while investors eagerly awaited an announcement on whom he would select as Treasury Secretary to oversee the $700 billion program to buy distressed assets and recapitalize wobbly financial institutions.

"The need for a seamless transition is greater than it has been in our adult political lifetime," said William Galston, a former domestic policy adviser to President Bill Clinton who is now a professor at the University of Maryland.

"With two wars abroad and an international financial crisis going on, there cannot be a period in which the new administration is just getting up to speed," Galston said.

Obama, who takes office on January 20, has proposed a new economic stimulus package to help revive the economy, which is still staggering from a mortgage crisis that left financial institutions overleveraged, undermined confidence, froze credit markets and transformed Wall Street.

Song, dances and newborn babies

Obama's supporters celebrated in major capitals around the world.

In Kogelo, home to Obama's Kenyan family, hundreds of villagers erupted into song and dance.

Swinging branches and chairs in the air, men cheered and clapped while women shouted "Obama! Obama!" in the village where his grandmother lives and where his late Kenyan father was born.

In the Sierra Leone capital Freetown, the church bells rang out as people sang in the streets, motorists sounded their horns -- and newborn babies were named "Barack Obama" at the city's main maternity hospital. Reports from Agence France-Presse and Reuters