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World Watches as Obama Makes History

The world has watched with growing interest these last few days as the U.S. Democratic Party chose Barack Obama as its presidential candidate, the first African-American to be a major party nominee. U.S. presidential elections always generate interest around the world, but rarely as much as Barack Obama's candidacy has. VOA's Sonja Pace has more from London.

Europeans tend to watch American party conventions with fascination and wonder - the carnival atmosphere, the balloons, placards and fireworks are all far removed from the much more staid European political norms.

But, this particular presidential contest has stirred a great deal of fascination and the reason is Barack Obama.

He is the first African-American chosen by a mainstream, major political party as its candidate and the first one with a realistic shot at the White House. But, Barack Obama is also young, articulate and talks about hopes and dreams.

That message clearly resonated with the more than 200,000 people who turned out in Berlin to hear Obama speak there in July.

His words also seem to strike a chord with many across the globe. One woman in China, who gives her name as Mrs. Zhao, tells VOA she thinks Obama is inspirational.

He's young she says, and "when he speaks he's really able to say, how shall I put it, inspirational things. America needs this kind of voice."

Another person on the streets of Beijing says he is also impressed. "He's friendly and he cares about citizens, he cares about people," he said.

In parts of the Middle East reactions were less effusive and any choice for U.S. president will be viewed through the prism of the local situation.

A young Israeli medical student who gave his name only as Shai, told VOA he likes Obama, but has concerns.

"I'm afraid he will not be as hard with Iran as we wish he would be," he said. "The other [issue]… I hope he will be hard with Israel and force it to withdraw from the West Bank and to form a Palestinian state, but I am sure he will not do so. But, I'm sure John McCain will not do so [either]."

Reaction to Obama was even tougher in traditionally Arab East Jerusalem, where 65-year-old Jamal expressed serious and often-heard doubts about American policy, no matter who is in the White House. "Mr. Obama is like Mr. Bush, like all of them," he said. "No one does anything for the Palestinians. Only for the Jewish. For the Palestinians, no one in America will do anything."

But the skepticism of the Middle East is not shared everywhere. In Kenya, the homeland of Barack Obama's African father, has been watching his presidential campaign with a combination of interest and pride.

Speaking with VOA from the streets of Nairobi, Peter Odhiambo, 59, describes Obama as young, energetic, visionary. "One thing is that Obama is connected to Africa, then he is close to Africa and he knows a lot about Africa," he said.

Several people cited Obama's Kenyan background and said they felt he would do more to help disadvantaged people in Africa and elsewhere.

Travel agent, Mercy Kamau says Obama's candidacy is a dream come true for many Africans. "I think he's a great role model for Afro-Americans and for the Africans at large," said Kamau.

In Europe, Barack Obama's acceptance speech in Denver was carried on many television screens across the continent, his picture made every front page of every major newspaper. In its front-page headline the British daily, the Times described Obama's candidacy as a "date with destiny."