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Round-the-world parties for Obama

STREET vendors in Indonesia cooked up "Obama" fried rice and children from the president-elect's old elementary school sang the Star-Spangled Banner. Kenyans were planning parties for their most famous son.

Across the world yesterday, 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 nation.

Old classmates of the president-elect 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 elections 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.

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'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."

Many across the Middle East heralded the inauguration but expressed reservations about how much Obama will actually change United States' 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 Gaza offensive by Israel that killed over 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 US presidents.

Iraqis expressed mixed feelings, with some saying Obama represents a significant new page in US 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 said Iraqis have bad memories of President George W. Bush "who destroyed Iraq."


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