Eyes of the world turn to US

PEOPLE outside the US could only watch, wait and fume as Americans lined up to vote yesterday in an election that provoked an extraordinary degree of emotional involvement beyond US borders.

Ordinary people are convinced that a world feeling the effects of the US-led occupation of Iraq, cultural and religious conflict and the war on terrorism has a huge stake in the outcome.

Saif-ur Rahman, a 36-year-old lawyer in Pakistan's capital Islamabad, planned to tune in early this morning when results were due to start coming in, hoping to see change in US policy. "Muslims have suffered under Bush whether they are in America or elsewhere," he said. "I hope Kerry will change that."

In Sao Paulo, Brazil, cab driver Wagner Markues, 54, said he preferred Mr Kerry and wondered why the race is so close. "We don't understand America now," he said. "Are they getting different news than us about the scandals in the Iraqi prisons, and the children and civilians who are getting killed?"

Israeli newspapers let their own big local stories Yasser Arafat's illness and a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv take second place, putting the US elections atop their front pages.

Much public comment focused on President George W Bush, seen as a polarising figure in many countries.

Mr Bush's go-it-alone stance on many issues from the Kyoto Treaty to the war in Iraq as well as his religious outlook, his Texas background and single-minded approach, made him a target for many.

Polls in many countries, and a quick survey of the newspapers and TV, leave little doubt that Mr Kerry is the preferred choice across much of the globe.

In Germany, where Mr Bush is deeply unpopular, Michael Moore's anti-Bush film, Fahrenheit 9/11, was prime time fare on national television on election eve.

Plenty of foreign politicians have clear personal stakes in the outcome and in these circles the choice is more balanced.

Japan's Junichiro Koizumi and Russia's Vladimir Putin, have signalled their preference for Mr Bush.

The politicians who were keeping quiet the usual practice had a big stake too. For France and Germany a Kerry White House would mean a chance of mending ties but also could bring new complications.

These nations, which refused to help Mr Bush in Iraq, may have a problem saying no again if Mr Kerry makes good on his campaign pledge to seek more allies in the war.

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