Mandela calls Obama voice of hope

January 21, 2009 12:00 am

, PARIS, January 21 – Revered international statesman Nelson Mandela led a near-global welcome for new US President Barack Obama but China censored Obama’s inauguration speech to cut references to dissent.

World divisions over the United States were also shown in North Korea’s failure to tell its strictly controlled people about Obama’s accession. The foreign minister of Iran — another member of President George W. Bush’s "axis of evil" — said his country was reserving judgment on the new US leader.

But most countries gave overwhelming approval to Obama, whose swearing-in inspired parties and commemorations from London to Sydney.

Mandela, who led the fight against South Africa’s apartheid regime and is probably the world’s most respected human rights advocate, called the first black US president a "new voice of hope".

"We believe that we are witnessing something truly historic not only in the political annals of your great nation, the United States of America, but of the world," the Nobel Peace Prize winner wrote in a letter to Obama.

"Your presidency brings hope of new beginnings in the relations between nations, that the challenges we all face, be they economic, the environment, or in combating poverty or the search for peace, will be addressed with a new spirit of openness and accommodation," wrote Mandela.

Underscoring the international show of faith in Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said: "We are eager for him to get to work so that with him we can change the world."

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown hailed Obama as a "man of great vision" and his arrival as a "new chapter in both American history and the world’s history."

China’s uneasy relationship with the United States was shown in its censorship of Obama’s landmark inauguration speech.

State-run China Central Television broadcast the speech live, but when the translator mentioned communism, the channel suddenly cut to an awkwardly smiling news anchor.

Censors cut Obama’s declaration that "earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions."

The People’s Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece, published a translated text on its website, omitting the word communism. The line about dissent was cut entirely.

China’s two biggest Internet portals, Sina and Sohu, did the same. But there was widespread comment on the speech on Chinese Internet forums.

In North Korea, the tightly muzzled state media did not even mention the Washington inauguration. It only reported his election victory three days late.

Obama — who has inherited an economy in crisis and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — has promised to mend international relations that became strained with many countries during Bush’s eight years in office.

He has vowed a diplomatic engagement with Iran over its nuclear programme, but Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Iran would await the "practical policies" of the new president before passing judgement on him.

Mottaki called on Obama to take a new look at the Middle East, saying that the "traditional way of looking at it … will bring nothing."

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he hoped Israel and the United States would be "full partners in promoting peace and stability in the Middle East." Israel is still waiting to see Obama’s attitude to the Middle East conflict and its recent war in Gaza.

Some US allies have warned that Obama does not face an easy task tackling the world’s problems.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel wished Obama "good luck" but ruled out further increasing Germany’s force in Afghanistan and expressed scepticism that direct talks with Iran would work.

But in Indonesia where Obama lived in the late 1960s, former classmates brimmed with pride after the chubby kid they knew as "Barry" became the most powerful man in the world.

"We’re convinced that he’ll be able to bring change because even when he was a kid he already had a ‘go global’ attitude," said lawmaker Dewi Asmara Oetojo.

Thousands danced through the inauguration at the Kenyan village of Sogello where Obama’s late father came from.


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