World looks on in awe as Obama becomes president

World looks on in awe as Obama becomes president

21st January 2009, Comments 0 comments

From Berlin to Basra, Paris to Kogelo, people sang, danced and cried as America swore in its first black president.

He slipped up on the oath of office. And worldwide, there was a collective smile.

"That’s sweet, he’s nervous," whispered one German in a large crowd, watching the ceremony on a big screen. "My god, who wouldn’t be, with the eyes of the world on him."

And so it went, a historic moment on a historic day, one in which ecstatic revelers toasted the new president at parties at bars, embassies and private homes around the world while others gathered on streets to just stare up in awe at giant screens.

In Berlin, thousands of Germans and Americans turned out for a party thrown by Democrats Abroad in the city where Obama held the biggest rally of his campaign before a rapturous crowd of 200,000 in July.

A queue of revellers waiting to get in stretched down the street, while the crowd inside watched rapt as his speech was broadcast.

"America was always the example we looked up to and I believe it can become that again," said Dorothea Kleffel, 46, an executive assistant. "Under Bush all that faith we had in America was trampled on and betrayed but I feel hopeful again tonight. I have my fingers crossed for Obama!"

The scene was repeated across the city, in various bookstores and bars, where after the official ceremonies, people chatted about the new era ushered in and grooved to rhythm and blues bands.

At a party in a central London bar, a crowd of Americans, Africans and Britons raised a toast to the new president and cheered the big screen when George W. Bush's helicopter carried him away.

"I was so excited, I had chills watching the entire ceremony," said Shafee Johns-Wilson, 29, from New Mexico. "Obama has so much to do to put things back on track but he is heading in the right direction. Thank God Bush has gone."

Anita Kaddu, 38, from Uganda, said it was "a fantastic day for America and Africa." She had high hopes for Obama: "I hope he will talk tough to the dictators."

Elsewhere in London, politicians and community leaders gathered in the heart of the city's black community to launch an initiative to encourage more black lawmakers in parliament.

"Obama has shown that black people are rising in every field and every organisation," said Dawn Butler, one of just 15 black and Asian lawmakers in the 646-seat House of Commons.

At an event organised by Democrats Abroad in Madrid, hundreds of people waved red-white-and-blue American flags in a hotel ballroom as they watched Obama being sworn in as the 44th US president.

The crowd cheered and waved white posters with Obama's campaign slogan "Change" every time key Democratic figures appeared on the screen.

Sebastian Ingram, a 44-year-old black man from Alabama who works at a computer firm in Spain, said his father had voted for Obama but had died before the inauguration.

"I have come to witness this historic event because it personifies the teachings and everything that my father said about racism, about how this day would one day come," Ingram told AFP, surrounded by his family and children. "He is not here to see it, so I am here to see it for him."

In the French capital, dozens of students and other Americans gathered at the American Business School to watch the inauguration, red-white-and-blue balloons streaming around them in the main hall.

Among them was Joan Helbling, 70, who taught at Obama's high school in Honolulu, Hawaii, where the new president spent seven years.

"He was a very average student and yet he was so intelligent he didn't have to do much to get by," said Helbling, whose husband teaches at the Paris business school. "I like to think of him as a student of life."

In Kogelo, people danced in the Kenyan village where Barack Obama's father was born as the population of the town swelled threefold to 3,000 when tourists joined Kenyans in celebrating the historic moment in the place linked so closely to the new US leader.

Watching the Washington ceremony on a screen surrounded by a message reading "Congratulations, our son, our hope," Josephine Awuor, 30, said Obama's accession to the world's most powerful office had changed her life.

"We the people of Kogelo, our minds and our eyes are now open," she said. "Because now we don't feel so small, we don't feel of so small value anymore."

Descendants of black slaves in Iraq also celebrated Obama's inauguration.

In Basra, dozens of Iraqis from the Movement of Free Iraqis, the country's only association of black people, handed out cakes and sweets in celebration.

"The blacks in Iraq are so happy they are overflowing with joy and tears as they watch this great victory of President Obama for freedom and democracy," said the movement's secretary general, Jalal Dhiab. "The choice of the Americans of Obama is not only a victory for blacks, but whites and all other races."


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