World closely watching US presidential elections

By: ALI KOTARUMALOS, Associated Press Writer
By: ALI KOTARUMALOS, Associated Press Writer

JAKARTA, Indonesia – When Sri Murtiningsi asked her third graders what they wanted to be when they grew up, the answers ranged from doctors to a pilot. One boy in the class raised his hand: Barack Obama said his dream was to be president of the United States.

Forty years later Murtiningsi — like the rest of the world — is watching closely as Americans prepare to head to the polls Tuesday.

"Barry was the only one who said he wanted to be president ... I hope his dream comes true," Murtiningsi said of Obama, who spent four years living in Indonesia as a child.

Many believe Obama's international experience would go a long way in helping repair damage caused by the unpopular U.S.-led war in Iraq, with recent opinion polls from more than 70 nations favoring him a resounding three-to-one over Republican John McCain.

Newspapers across the globe came out in support of the Democratic candidate Monday.

"Obama the best hope for U.S. revival," said an editorial in The Australian Financial Review. The Gulf News, an English-language paper in the United Arab Emirates, agreed, saying only he could "undo the great damage done by the Bush administration to America's image," especially in the Middle East. Obama "deserves to win," declared The Irish Times.

In Israel, though, where McCain is popular, the Maariv daily reported that officials are worried about an Obama presidency because of his willingness to hold diplomatic talks with Iran. Israel believes the international community must not embrace Iran's president, who has repeatedly called for Israel's destruction.

"Obama is very naive about how things work in the Middle East. He thinks that by being nice to Iran they will stop building nuclear weapons and stop threatening us. He doesn't understand that being nice doesn't work in our region," said Ariel Hajaj, a 36-year-old Jerusalem contractor. "McCain understands the way things work here better his approach is more suited the Middle East and he would be better for Israel."

Obama's presidential bid has sparked excitement in Kenya, home to his late father, with thousands turning out for the Democratic candidate's last visit in 2006.

"Everybody is extremely happy and excited and looking forward to celebrating the day after the elections," said Malik Obama, the candidate's half brother.

In the sleepy Japanese coastal town of Obama — which translates as "little beach," images of the Democratic candidate adorn banners along a main shopping street and preparations for an election day victory party were in full swing Monday.

Koichi Inoue, who makes traditional sweet bean cakes, said his factory was working at double normal production because he had promised free handouts for every customer if Obama came out on top.

"It looks like he is going to win from the polls so I've got to be ready," he said.

Election fever was also high in Vietnam, where McCain was held prisoner of war for more than five years after the U.S. fighter pilot was shot down in Hanoi during a 1967 bombing run.

Le Lan Anh, a Hanoi real estate tycoon and novelist, says McCain is "a great man," because he passed up the opportunity to leave prison early ahead of other U.S. inmates.

"He's patriotic. As a soldier, he came here to destroy my country, but I admire his dignity," she said.

As a U.S. senator in the 1990s, McCain helped normalize bilateral relations, so he is "someone who understands Vietnam," said Phan Manh Tien, 54, a retired soldier and truck driver. Still, he prefers Obama because he sees the Democrat as less hawkish.

Many in Pakistan, a close ally in the U.S. war on terror, will be glued to television sets on Election Day. The results, they say, will have broad implications for their own country and neighboring Afghanistan, where American forces have been battling the Taliban and its al-Qaida allies.

The last eight years have "affected our economy and our peace," said Mohammad Zubair, a 33-year-old lawyer in Lahore, who anticipates an Obama win. "I hope the election will bring change to Pakistan as well."

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Associated Press writers Irwan Firdaus in Jakarta, Indonesia; Ben Stocking in Hanoi, Vietnam; Jay Alabaster in Obama, Japan; Ian Deitch in Jerusalem and Babar Dogar in Lahore, Pakistan contributed to this report.


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