VOLUME 28 NO. 5 | JANUARY 24 - JANUARY 30, 2009

Worldwide, people mobilize for Obama inauguration

Last updated 1-22-09 at 5:44 p.m.
The picture above shows a combined photo of the past and the present U.S. President Barack
Obama and his schoolmates at SDN Menteng 01 elementary school, where Obama studied during
his time in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Photo by Yue Yuewei, provided by Xinhua News Agency

By Anthony Deutsch
The Associated Press

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Street vendors in Indonesia cooked up “Obama” fried rice, and children from the president’s old elementary school sang the Star-Spangled Banner. Kenyans planned parties for their most famous son.
Across the world, people gathered to mark the inauguration of Barack Obama as if he were one of their own.

In the Indonesian capital, where Obama spent four years as a young boy, students from his former school were to perform old-style dances from across the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

Old classmates of the president would come together to watch his speech at the Menteng 1 elementary school, where he 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, a former Obama classmate and fellow boy scout. “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.”

In Kenya, neighbors were to join together for the moment, a year after their elections were marred by ethnic violence.
“Our election in Kenya really had problems with ethnicity. … America has shown that this doesn’t have to be that big a problem,” said Dr. Joseph Osoo, who runs a clinic in one of Kenya’s biggest slums.

“Kenyan are very happy because their son is going to be the leader of America,” he said.

In the Japanese town of Obama, stages were erected outside a local Buddhist temple for an “Obama for Obama” event, featuring hula dancers — Obama was born in Hawaii, and hula is popular in Japan — and speeches by local dignitaries.

The town has been big on Obama sincethe primaries. After his election, more than 1,000 people turned out for a raucous celebration. Obama, which means “little beach,” has a population of 32,000.

The town’s businesses have pumped out Barack Obama sweet bean cakes, chopsticks, T-shirts, fish burgers, neck ties, and Obama Noodles marked, “For world peace and stability.” Most items depict only the back of his head, to avoid accusations of pirating his image.

Obama Mayor Koji Matsuzaki was out of town on business, but he issued a statement.

“As mayor of the city with the same name, Obama, I feel extremely delighted,” he said. “We all have long waited for this blissful moment.”

Many across the Middle East heralded the inauguration but expressed reservations about how much Obama will actually change U.S. policy in a region where anti-American sentiment spiked during the Bush administration.

Those doubts have become more pronounced in recent weeks with the devastating attacks on Gaza by U.S. ally Israel that killed more than 1,250 Palestinians.

But Obama still retains a great deal of goodwill in the Middle East from people who feel his multicultural background allows him to relate to the region better than past U.S. presidents.

Saleh al-Mohaisen, a Saudi who runs a jewelry store, said he was “overjoyed” when Obama was elected.

“I felt that he could understand Arab suffering,” he said.

Al-Mohaisen said Obama’s failure to denounce Israel’s Gaza offensive made him more wary of the new leader, but not enough to change his general opinion.

“I love him despite his silence,” he said. “I feel we share the same blood.”

Iraqis expressed mixed feelings, with some saying Obama represents a significant new page in U.S. history and others questioning how much American policy will change in Iraq.

“Today is a big day for America, when a Black president takes office,” said Ali Salam, a 45-year-old owner of a stationary store in Baghdad. “This is real democracy and the results of the people’s struggle.”

Muna Abdul-Razzaq, a 37-year-old primary school teacher in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, said Iraqis have bad memories of President George W. Bush, “who destroyed Iraq.”

“We hope that Obama will be more responsible,” she said.

But Muhsin Karim, a 50 year-old official in Iraq’s Oil Ministry, said, “I don’t expect a big change in Iraq because America is a state of institutions, where Obama will find few options to change anything.”

Still, some people hold out hope that Obama will fundamentally transform U.S. policy toward the Middle East.

“Everybody loves him,” said Abdullah Hiyari, a 21-year-old taxi driver in Amman, Jordan. “I hope that he is really going to change things for the better in the region.” (end)

AP writers Min Lee in Hong Kong, Ali Kotarumalos in Jakarta, Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo, and writers across the Middle East contributed to this report.


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