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Students hold placards to celebrate the victory of U.S. President-elect Senator Barack Obama in Multan, Pakistan, on Wednesday. Obama's victory fostered hopes in Pakistan that the United States would become less overbearing, and nurture the country's recent return to civilian-led democracy. ((Asim Tanveer/Reuters))

World leaders offered praise and citizens celebrated around the globe over the election of Barack Obama as U.S. president.

From politicians to casual observers, many noted the historical significance of the American electorate voting Tuesday for the first black president.

"Your victory has demonstrated that no person anywhere in the world should not dare to dream of wanting to change the world for a better place," South Africa's first black president, Nelson Mandela, said in a letter of congratulations to Obama.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai praised voters for their "great decision" and hoped that the "lack of interest in race and colour while electing the president will go a long way in bringing the same values to the rest of world sooner or later."

Obama's victory "marks a new chapter in the remarkable history of the United States," said Pakistani Prime Minister Raza Gilani.

Pracha Kanjananont, a 29-year-old Thai sitting at a Starbucks in Bangkok, said Obama was the first "truly global U.S. president the world has ever had."

"He had an Asian childhood, African parentage and has a Middle Eastern name. He is a truly global president."

Eager anticipation of Obama administration

Some observers believe the election of the 47-year-old Illinois senator will usher in a new era of improved relations with the U.S. and restore the country's reputation that many say has been damaged during the administration of President George W. Bush.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said he hoped the incoming administration will take steps to improve badly damaged U.S. ties with Russia. Tensions have been driven to a post-Cold War high by Moscow's war with U.S. ally Georgia.

"I stress that we have no problem with the American people, no inborn anti-Americanism. And we hope that our partners, the U.S. administration, will make a choice in favour of full-fledged relations with Russia," Medvedev said.

An aide to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of Iran, said there is now "capacity for the improvement of ties between America and Iran if Obama pursues his campaign promises, including not confronting other countries as Bush did in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Many in Europe, where Obama is overwhelmingly popular, had looked eagerly to an Obama administration.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Obama's win a "historic victory" and said that both Europe and the U.S. will work together to confront new dangers and risks, as well as make use of opportunities in the world.

The results show Americans "have expressed with force their faith in progress and the future," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said, adding that Obama's victory "has raised enormous hope in France, in Europe and beyond."

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown praised Obama's "inspirational campaign" that energized politics, adding that he and Obama share many values.

In Kenya, the birthplace of Obama's late father, and where Obama's picture adorns billboards and minibuses, many celebrated his victory.

Public holiday in Kenya

His Kenyan relatives in the western village of Kolego, where Obama's father was born, erupted in cheers Wednesday, singing: "We are going to the White House!"

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki declared a public holiday on Thursday in honour of Obama.

"We the Kenyan people are immensely proud of your Kenyan roots," Kibaki said. "Your victory is not only an inspiration to millions of people all over the world, but it has special resonance with us here in Kenya."

But not all offered praise.

Ali Al-Sadig, a spokesman for the Sudanese Foreign Ministry, said they didn't expect any change.

"When it comes to foreign policy, there is no difference between the Republicans and the Democrats."

Some Iraqis said they would believe positive change when they saw it.

"Obama's victory will do nothing for the Iraqi issue nor for the Palestinian issue," said Muneer Jamal, a Baghdad resident. "I think all the promises Obama made during the campaign will remain mere promises."

With files from the Associated Press and Reuters