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World tunes in to watch US poll

SYDNEY, November 5 – From the bars of London to the small Japanese town of Obama, it seemed like the whole world tuned in Wednesday to watch one of the most eagerly anticipated US presidential elections for decades.

Parties spilled out onto the streets, share traders were glued to their TV screens and expat Americans joined election-day rallies in cities across the globe as the Democrats’ Barack Obama took on the Republican John McCain.

For many millions more without a direct share in the vote, it was also an opportunity to see if Obama would make history as the first black US leader.

In Obama, an ancient fishing town on the Sea of Japan, residents dressed in Hawaiian skirts and did a hula dance as they watched the returns on CNN.

Many said they had embraced Hawaiian-born Obama as one of their own.

"I’m hoping for him because of his name," shopkeeper Yuichi Matsumoto, 69, said, "but if he wins I also think he will do lots of good things like ending the Iraq war and fixing the economic crisis."

In London, Americans clutching hot dogs and swigging bottled beer crowded the Democrat-dominated Yates bar in the central nightclub quarter, the second largest party in town after a bash at the US embassy.

David Grey, who runs a male salon, said he hoped an Obama win would make it easier for Americans abroad.

"It would be nice to have a president who is celebrated when he goes abroad and his effigy is not burned," he told AFP.

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There were similar scenes across western Europe. In Berlin, CNN and German media giant Bertelsmann threw a party with mini hamburgers and chicken nuggets on the Unter den Linden boulevard – just down the road from where Obama drew 200,000 people to hear him speak in July.

Polls show Germans would elect Obama in a landslide if they could vote, and the excitement at parties around the German capital reflected that bias.

Catherena Oostveen, a German-Russian actress who trained in Los Angeles and New York, showed up in a red-white-and-blue t-shirt and a cowboy hat she got from a Texan friend.

"Obama is so intelligent and inspiring that I hope he can change the things that the rest of the world is so angry about right now," she said over a glass of California wine.

In Paris, American expats gathered at one of Ernest Hemingway’s favourite watering holes and other bars.

Across town, proudly wearing an Obama pin, Herve Moussakanda loaded up his plate with cheese before sidling up to a big screen set up in a Paris club.

"I just couldn’t miss this. This is historic. A dream come true," he said, one of hundreds of French blacks here cheering the first African-American to have the White House within grasp.

Cheers of "O"-"BA"-"MA" and a French version of his "yes we can" slogan – "Oui, nous pouvons" – erupted from supporters.

Celebrations began early in Sydney, with hundreds of people packed into an event organised by Americans Abroad for Obama and spilling onto the street.

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"They just keep streaming in and streaming in and it’s midday on a workday so everybody seems to be taking off work and coming here to celebrate," said Lyndsi Crowder, a volunteer.

"And the drinks are flowing and everybody is already pretty into the party and it’s hard to believe, when you step outside, it’s still the middle of the day on a work day."

Many of Beijing’s expat bars were also full to the brim. Some introduced a special breakfast, with red and blue cocktails to represent the Republican and Democratic candidates.

At the swanky Marriott Renaissance hotel, 600 Chinese students, academics and government officials met at the invitation of the US embassy to watch the results.

They were able to get a taste for the American voting process with a voting booth complete with ballot box and real ballot.

As the business day began in Shanghai, Americans in Obama t-shirts — some with the candidate’s name in Chinese characters — checked their laptops and cheered as CNN reported early returns.

Joyce Tu, a pro-Obama Chinese businesswoman, lamented the lack of elections in China.

"China will never have a minority president," she told AFP, "and will never have a non-Communist party president as long as we never have elections."

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