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Thu Oct 30 21:02:38 SAST 2014

World reacts to President Obama's second term

Sapa, AFP, dpa, Reuters | 07 November, 2012 10:16
US President Barack Obama celebrates after winning the U.S. presidential election in Chicago, Illinois, November 7, 2012.
Image by: JASON REED / REUTERS

The world has reacted - largely positively - to US President Barack Obama's re-election.

South Africa

President Jacob Zuma congratulated US president Barack Obama on Wednesday after he won a second term in office.

"We value our relations with the United States and look forward to strengthening bilateral co-operation in the years to come," said Zuma.

He said the US had an important role to play in Africa's development.

"South Africa is confident that the United States will continue to play a positive role in this regard."

The Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory has also congratulated Obama, saying: "On behalf of our founder [former president] Nelson Mandela and our board of trustees, we congratulate you upon your re-election," spokesman Sello Hatang said in a statement.

He said the US was a vital partner in Africa's efforts to overcome poverty and inequality.

"We are confident that under your continued, insightful leadership this partnership will grow stronger, both in working with governments on the continent, but also with the burgeoning civil society movements that seek to empower communities."

In winning the election, Obama became the second Democrat to win a second four-year term in the White House since World War II.

Kenya

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki also congratulated Obama on his "well deserved victory", saying that people in his ancestral homeland were celebrating his re-election.

"Kenya, as always is proud of our association with you," Kibaki said in a statement on Wednesday.

"We look forward to the deepening of relations between our two countries during your second term in office," it added.

Israel

Israel's vice-prime minister Silvan Shalom on Wednesday congratulated Obama on his re-election, saying the Jewish state expected ties with Washington to remain strong.

"All the US administrations have supported Israel on the political, security and economic fronts because we have common interests and values," Shalom told public radio.

"Barack Obama has been with us during the most sensitive moments," he added.

"Those who say that it will be hard and that there will be a confrontation during the second Obama term are wrong."

Relations between Obama and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have at times been tense, with the Israeli leader appearing to throw his support behind Obama's Republican opponent Mitt Romney.

But in recent weeks, as Obama's re-election looked increasingly likely, Israeli officials have sought to stress that a second term for the US president would not see bilateral ties deteriorate.

Netanyahu congratulated Obama and said the strategic alliance between their two countries was “stronger than ever”.

“I will continue to work with President Obama to ensure the interests that are vital for the security of Israel’s citizens,” Netanyahu, who has had a testy relationship with the US leader, said in a short written statement.

One major rift between the two leaders has been their approach in dealing with Iran’s nuclear aspirations, with the United States urging Netanyahu not to launch any go-it-alone military action.

Netanyahu faces his own electoral test in January, when Israel holds a national ballot that opinion polls predict his right-wing Likud party will win.

Netanyahu’s defence minister, Ehud Barak, who was a frequent visitor to Washington over the past four years, said in his own statement he had no doubt Obama will continue his policies, which “fundamentally support Israel’s security”.

“It is possible to overcome any differences in positions that may arise,” Barak said.

Cuba

Cubans breathed a collective sigh of relief on Wednesday over US President Barack Obama’s re-election victory and expressed hope he might still bring a change in US policy toward Cuba that many expected after he won his first term in 2008.

They generally supported him over Republican candidate Mitt Romney because they feared Romney would be the second coming of President George W. Bush, who toughened the longstanding US trade embargo and hardened relations with the Cuban government during his time in the White House.

“Bush made it really hard for us economically and even to see family who live in the United States. If Romney had won most of the people here would have been really sad,” said Havana domestic worker Violeta Gutierrez as she washed dishes in her employer’s kitchen.

Obama’s 2008 victory raised hopes that the US trade embargo against Cuba, imposed in 1962 with the intent of toppling the island’s communist government, would finally be lifted and US-Cuba relations, hostile since the 1959 revolution led by Fidel Castro, would improve.

The embargo is still in place and relations have improved only slightly, but in 2009 Obama lifted Bush-era restrictions on remittances and Cuban American visits to the country 90 miles (145 km) from Florida, both heartily welcomed by Cubans.

The flow of remittances has risen to an estimated $2 billion, a huge help to Cubans who earn on average $19 a month, and 300 000 to 400 000 Cuban Americans have been pouring into the island annually, bringing their families a steady flow of consumer goods, food and medicines hard to find in Cuba.

They have helped Cuba’s budding self-employed sector by bringing items for Cubans to sell, although stiff new import duties imposed by the government threaten the influx of goods.

“The money people receive from their family has changed their lives. It helps them eat better, dress, buy soap for a bath, everything thanks to that money,” said Gutierrez, who gets money occasionally from family members in Miami.

Romney had threatened to roll back Obama’s changes if he won the presidency and was supported by Cuban American lawmakers who say the easing of restrictions had only helped the Cuban government, led by President Raul Castro, younger brother of now retired Fidel Castro.

“The Cuban American extremists favour policies that hurt the Cuban people and give the Cuban government excuses for their failures,” said dissident Miriam Leiva at an election night function at the US Interests Section in Havana, which the United States has instead of an embassy because the two countries have no official diplomatic relations.

A straw vote by those in attendance, among them Cuban dissidents and diplomats from the United States and other countries, went to Obama 64-19.

Obama also renewed US-Cuba talks on immigration and postal issues, but the mild rapprochement ended when Cuba arrested American Alan Gross and sentenced him to 15 years in prison for setting up Internet networks on the island.

Washington insisted he was only trying to improve Internet access for Cuban Jewish groups, but he was working for a US programme that promotes political change on the island, which the Cuban government views as subversive.

Despite the setbacks, handicrafts vendor Rene Castillo said four more years of Obama still held the promise of hope for better days between the two ideological foes.

“Obama is the hope that more things change between Cuba and the United States. Not even under (President Bill) Clinton, who also did his part in favour of better ties, was there so much interaction as there is with Obama,” he said.

“Now it’s needed that he fill himself with courage and lift the embargo, but here everyone knows he can’t do it alone,” said Castillo.

Cuban officials have expressed less optimism about Obama, saying before the election they expected no major changes in US policy no matter who won because Obama and Romney shared the goal of toppling Cuban communism, but with different tactics.

Obama “proposes to liquidate the Cuban Revolution, but with softness,” Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon told Venezuelan television network Telesur in a recent interview.

China

Chinese leader Hu Jintao has also passed on his congratulations, noting "positive progress" in Sino-US relations the past four years, China's foreign ministry said Wednesday.

"President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao sent messages of congratulations to President Obama on his being re-elected president of the United States," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters.

Great Britain

British Prime Minister David Cameron said he was looking forward to working again with "friend" Obama after his victory.

"Warm congratulations to my friend @BarackObama," Cameron wrote on his Twitter account. "Look forward to continuing to work together."

In an official statement issued later from Jordan, where he was visiting a desert refugee camp for Syrians, the prime minister said Obama had had a successful four years and wished him well for the next four.

"There are so many things that we need to do: we need to kick start the world economy and I want to see an EU-US trade deal," Cameron said.

"Right here in Jordan I am hearing appalling stories about what has happened inside Syria so one of the first things I want to talk to Barack about is how we must do more to try and solve this crisis.

"Above all, congratulations to Barack. I've enjoyed working with him, I think he's a very successful US president and I look forward to working with him in the future."

France

French President Francois Hollande Wednesday hailed US Obama's re-election as a "clear choice for an open, united America that is totally engaged on the international scene."

Obama's victory would "once again reinforce our partnership to facilitate the return of economic growth in our countries, to fight unemployment, and to find solutions to crises that threaten us, notably in the Middle East," he said.

India

India sent its well wishes, saying it looked forward to boosting ties during his second four-year term.

"The Government and people of India send their congratulations to President Obama on his winning a second mandate from people of the USA who have expressed their will in the great tradition of democracy in their country," the External Affairs Ministry said in a statement.

President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh were separately sending congratulatory messages to President Obama, it said.

"India and US have developed extensive bilateral cooperation and partnership based on shared values based on belief in democracy, the rule of law and pluralism. We look forward to continuing to deepen and widen the engagement between India and US in the years ahead," it said.

Canada

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he looks forward to working with the Obama administration.

Canada and the US "enjoy one of the closest and most extensive relationships in the world," Harper said in a statement, adding that over the years he and Obama "have worked on several important bilateral initiatives to generate jobs and growth in both our countries."

"I look forward to working with the Obama administration over the next four years to continue finding ways to increase trade and investment flows between our countries," he added.

These plans include ways to "speed up trade and travel across our borders while also enhancing security," and to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, "which seeks to boost trade in the Asia-Pacific region."

"On behalf of the government of Canada, I would like to congratulate President Barack Obama on his victory," Harper said.

European Union

EU leaders say they look forward to boosting ties with the US and cooperating on global challenges.

European Union President Herman Van Rompuy, who was first to react, wrote on his Twitter account: "Very happy about the re-election of President Obama."

Shortly after, Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso published a statement in which they addressed their "warm congratulations to President Obama".

"The United States is a key strategic partner of the European Union and we look forward to continuing the close cooperation established with President Obama over these last four years, to further strengthening our bilateral ties and to jointly addressing global challenges, including in the fields of security and economy," they said.

They also "look forward to meeting President Obama at an early date in order to reconfirm our priorities and provide renewed impetus to our joint action".

NATO

Obama has shown "outstanding leadership" on NATO affairs, the chief of the military alliance said Wednesday, as he congratulated the US leader on his re-election.

"President Obama has demonstrated outstanding leadership in maintaining this vital bond, and I look forward to continuing our close cooperation to ensure NATO remains effective in a fast-changing world," Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.

"The bond between Europe and North America, based upon the shared values on which our alliance was founded over 60 years ago, remains as strong and as important to the preservation of euro-Atlantic peace and security as ever," he added.

There have been some concerns that the transatlantic alliance could weaken after Obama declared the US a Pacific nation and announced the stationing of troops in Australia last year.

US leaders have also long been concerned about NATO's over-reliance on the country's military capabilities amid dwindling European defence budgets.

Afghanistan

The mood is not the same in Afghanistan, where US troops are fighting and dying in America's longest conflict.

The re-election was met with a war-weary shrug as foreign forces prepare to withdraw.

One of the few things that Obama and Romney agreed on during their bitter campaign was that US combat troops would pull out by the end of 2014, whatever the state of the conflict against Taliban insurgents.

But in general Afghanistan, where the US has lost more than 2 000 soldiers in a decade of fighting and still has 68 000 troops, was barely mentioned during the election campaign.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he hoped it would lead to an expansion of relations between the two countries.

"The president of Afghanistan hopes that with President Obama's re-election relations between Afghanistan and the United States, based on bilateral interests, are further expanded," his spokesman Aimal Faizi told AFP.

The US has some 68,000 troops in Afghanistan helping Karzai's government fight a Taliban insurgency, but its combat soldiers are due to withdraw by the end of 2014 and hand responsibility for security to Afghan forces.

US ambassador James Cunningham told reporters at an election party at the Kabul embassy that Washington would continue to support Afghanistan after the troops withdraw.

"Americans have sacrificed much, and contributed much, in Afghanistan," he said.

"President Obama is committed to our enduring partnership, our Strategic Partnership, with the people of Afghanistan."

Obama and Karzai signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement earlier this year which covers relations after 2014, including the possibility of a reduced force remaining in Afghanistan to help train, advise and assist local forces.

But Karzai has said in the past that the outcome would have little impact on Afghanistan as the US strategy towards the country was already set.

And on the streets, indifference ruled.

"For me it really doesn't matter," said Nasrullah, a mobile phone retailer in the insurgency-plagued southern province of Kandahar.

"Whether Obama or Romney, it is the same. [Former president George W.] Bush, Obama - none of them could solve the problems of Afghanistan," Nasrullah, who uses just one name, told AFP.

Fazil Mohammad, an elderly man on the streets of Kandahar city, said: "Who cares? I don't care who wins, it's not Afghanistan's election."

Mohammed Sharif Athar, a student of Islamic law in Kabul, said: "All US presidents' policies in Islamic countries have failed because they are there for their own interests. We want our own president to do something."

One of the few with a strong preference, university student Mohammad Haroun, said: "Bush was generous. He spent lots of money in Afghanistan.

"Since Obama has taken over the troubles have increased in Afghanistan, so I'd have preferred Romney, who is a Republican like Bush."

Many among Afghanistan's educated elite are concerned that the country will collapse into civil war after the US-led NATO force of some 100 000 troops pulls out.

Taliban spokesmen were not immediately available for comment on the outcome of the election.

US ambassador James Cunningham told reporters at an election party at the Kabul embassy that Washington would continue to support Afghanistan after the troops withdraw.

"Americans have sacrificed much, and contributed much, in Afghanistan," he said.

"President Obama is committed to our enduring partnership, our Strategic Partnership, with the people of Afghanistan."

Obama and Karzai signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement earlier this year which covers relations after 2014, including the possibility of a reduced force remaining in Afghanistan to help train, advise and assist local forces.

But one crucial aspect of the US-Afghan relationship as yet unresolved is the legal status of any American forces who remain in the country after 2014.

Washington wants its troops to have immunity from prosecution in local courts, but Karzai says Afghans might not accept that.

Negotiations on the issue have been complicated by a murderous rampage in March by a US soldier who allegedly killed 16 Afghan villagers in their homes at night before being flown out of the country.

The soldier accused of the massacre, Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, is facing a pre-trial hearing in the United States this week to determine whether he should face a full court-martial.

Other issues, including the burning of Korans at an American base and the deaths of civilians at the hands of NATO forces, mainly through air strikes, have also caused deep resentment among Afghans.

At least 53 NATO troops, mostly Americans, have been killed this year in so-called green-on-blue attacks, in which Afghan forces turn their weapons on their NATO allies.

Against this background, along with the conflict's financial costs, opinion polls in the US have shown dwindling support for the war, with a majority wanting the troops home as soon as possible.

Egypt

Egypt’s presidency said it hoped Obama would work for the interests of both the American and Egyptian people.

A few months into first term as president, Obama delivered a speech at Cairo University in June 2009 calling for a “new beginning” between the US and the world’s Muslims.

But many in the region feel let down, saying he did not do enough on issues such Palestinian aspirations for a state.

“We congratulate the American people on their choice and we hope the newly elected US administration will work to achieve the interests of both the American and Egyptian people,” presidential spokesman Yasser Ali told Reuters.

He said Mohamed Mursi, an Islamist who is Egypt’s first freely elected president, would send a letter to Obama to congratulate him later on Wednesday.

Japan

Japan's prime minister also congratulated Obama, as Tokyo looks for help to ease tensions with China and repair strained ties with Washington.

Yoshihiko Noda told reporters after his return from an Asia-Europe summit in Laos: "I have sent a message congratulating him on his re-election. I want to continue cooperating with him."

Seiji Maehara, the minister for national strategy and economic and fiscal policy, also told reporters: "The Japan-US relationship has been strengthened in the past four years under President Obama."

"I hope we will cement the partnership further," he added.

Japan is heavily dependent on the US for its security under a post-World War II treaty, but the ruling Democratic Party of Japan has been seen by some in Washington as a little cold on the alliance.

Parliamentarians on both sides of Japan's political divide have raised objections to US pressure on Japan to join a multilateral free-trade pact involving countries around the Pacific.

There are also renewed protests in Okinawa, the southern Japanese island chain that is a reluctant host to more than half of the 47,000 service personnel the US has in the country.

The recent deployment of transport planes perceived as unsafe by residents, along with the alleged rape of a local woman by two servicemen and the claimed assault of a schoolboy by another have heightened anti-American feeling on the strategically-vital islands.

However, the flare-up with China over the sovereignty of disputed islands in the East China Sea is considered to have pushed Tokyo back towards Washington's embrace as Japan looks for international support on the issue.

Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin has sent Obama a telegram congratulating his US counterpart on victory in presidential elections, a Kremlin spokesman said.

The Kremlin received the news of Obama's victory over Romney "very positively," spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted as saying by the RIA Novosti news agency that Moscow will continue working with Obama and was ready to "go as far as the US administration is willing to go".

Italy

Obama's re-election makes America "stronger" and more ready to engage on major issues like the eurozone debt crisis, Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi said.

"America is stronger now," Terzi said on public television Rai Tre, adding: "He represents a major opportunity for the European Union and for Italy."

"The sure things of this American administration are the chance to continue to dialogue and cooperate on management of public finances, stability of the markets, integration of the European Union and reinforcing the euro," he said.

Obama's victory speech had "echoes of Kennedy", he added.

Assassinated US president John F. Kennedy "remains a historical and intellectual point of reference for all of America," he said.

World markets

World financial markets reacted cautiously to Obama's re-election amid concerns about the challenges he now faces in his second term as US president.

While stocks in Asia ended the session mixed, Europe's benchmark Stoxx 50 gained 0.5% to 2 574 points in opening trading as investors now focused on key US economic issues, notably Washington's efforts to deal with the nation's debt-and-deficit problems.

The dollar also slipped when it became apparent that Obama will be returning to the White House. The euro was up 0.3% cent at $1.2857 in early European trading.

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