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Some theatres across Canada and the U.S., including Vancouver's Rio Theatre, are showing the inauguration ceremony on the big screen. ((Submitted by Khaled Ben-Rabha) )

People around the world stood riveted in front of television sets Tuesday, witnessing from afar the historic moment when Barack Obama was sworn in as the first black president of the United States.

At churches, campus pubs, in people's living rooms and below big screens in city centres, crowds gathered to watch Obama lay his hand on Abraham Lincoln's red velvet Bible, take the oath of office and deliver his inaugural speech.

The world's attention did not go unnoticed in the 44th president's 18-minute speech, which promised to help poor nations, reached out to enemy states and even included a shout out to his father's hometown.

"And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more," said Obama.

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Lancelot Bourne from Santa Fe, N.M., holds a cardboard cutout of Barack Obama to celebrate the inauguration in Seoul, South Korea. ((Lee Jin-man/Associated Press))

Abroad, hopes are high that Obama's administration will herald a significant shift in U.S. foreign policy from that of his predecessor, President George W. Bush.

Obama takes over as U.S. commander-in-chief at a time when the White House is saddled with a deepening economic crisis, and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"I think everyone is hoping he'll make a big change. And I think with what's been going on in the last decade or so, it would be nice to get some peace and tranquility on the Earth for a change. So, fingers crossed," a pedestrian in London, England, told CBC News.

Obama singled out the Muslim world in his speech, sending the message that "we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect."

Many in the Middle East, where anti-American sentiment was high during the Bush administration, expressed reservations about how much change Obama could bring to the region, especially as it emerges from a devastating Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip.

Feasts in Kenya, hula dancers in Japan

In the small Kenyan village of Kogelo, where Obama's father grew up, a primary school renamed after the new president was decked out in colourful banners and residents for the inauguration celebration, the Standard newspaper reported.

Feasts were prepared across Kenya, beer was sold with Obama's name on it and movie screens were set up so neighbours could come together to watch the event.

"Kenyans are very happy because their son is going to be the leader of America," he said. Dr. Joseph Osoo, who runs a clinic in one of Kenya's biggest slums.

In Indonesia, where Obama spent four years as a boy, children from his former school, Menteng 1 elementary school, performed in bright, traditional costumes representing the country's ethnically diverse islands. Old classmates gathered at the school, where he is fondly remembered as Barry, to watch his speech.

"I'm proud that the next president is someone who I have shared time with," said Rully Dasaad, a fellow boy scout with Obama. "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."

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A man puts up a billboard congratulating U.S. president-elect Barack Obama, ahead of his inauguration in Washington, D.C., in Pristina, Kosovo, on Tuesday. ((Visar Kryeziu/Associated Press))

The Irish village of Moneygall also celebrated its faint connection to Obama as home of his great-great-great grandfather Fulmouth Kearney, who emigrated to the U.S. in 1850. The community was decked out in red, white and blue bunting and residents were hawking a special round fruitcake called "brack" for the occasion.

Even a small Japanese city that coincidentally shares the new U.S. president's family name held a ceremony. It featured hula dancers, a reference to Obama's birthplace in Hawaii, performing outside a local Buddhist temple for an "Obama for Obama" event.

Well-wishes sent to Obama

Canadians, too, held a slew of celebrations, from several movie theatres airing the inauguration live, to a "faux" inauguration ball for Americans living in Toronto.

Also at Toronto's downtown Dundas Square, a big screen broadcast the ceremony live for area office workers and pedestrians. 

At Brookview Middle School  in north Toronto, about 600 students gathered in the gymnasium to witness the historic event.

"We want the kids to know that this is something that a lot of people did not think would happen in their lifetime. So, we need to communicate that to them," said principal Karl Subban.

Obama's themes were echoed in the names of parties and showed up in unexpected places. Outside a United Nations complex overlooking the Danube River in Vienna, Austria, someone had written "YES, WE CAN!" in giant block letters in the snow.

Several hours before the swearing-in ceremony, Pope Benedict XVI sent Obama his blessing and prayers in a telegram.

In the text of the telegram released by the Vatican, the Pope says he hopes Obama sticks to his resolve to "promote understanding, co-operation and peace among the nations."

Queen Elizabeth II also sent the soon-to-be president a personal message of support.

In Hong Kong, the Madame Tussauds museum at the country's popular mountaintop tourist attraction, Victoria Peak, was due to unveil a wax figure of Obama on Tuesday, adding to its collection of Chinese celebrities and former politicians.

At London's Madame Tussauds, Americans were given free admission to see the new figure of Obama.

With files from the Associated Press