BERLIN (AP) – People outside the United States could only watch, wait and vent as Americans lined up to vote Tuesday in an election that provoked an extraordinary degree of emotional involvement beyond U.S. borders.

Not just leaders and news media, but ordinary people were riveted by the contest between President Bush and John Kerry, convinced that a world roiled by the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, the war on terrorism, and cultural and religious conflict had a huge stake in the outcome.

Saif-ur Rahman, a 36-year-old lawyer in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, planned to watch the results come in and hopes for a change.

“Muslims have suffered under Bush whether they are in America or elsewhere,” he said. “I hope Kerry will change that.”

In the Mideast, prominent columnist Jihad al-Khazen wrote in the pan Arab daily Al-Hayat that Arabs would be no better off under either Bush or Kerry, but said people throughout the region worried about the result because “the American president exercises authority over us which our presidents don’t.”

One Arab country where the Republican ticket remained strong was Kuwait, freed by U.S.-led forces under the first President Bush after Saddam Hussein invaded in 1990.

“In Kuwait, we have love and respect for the Bushes because they moved the world to liberate Kuwait from its occupier, the toppled Saddam Hussein,” read a column in Kuwait’s Al-Anba daily.

About 1,000 people gathered at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Amman, Jordan, for an election night function. Monsignor Nabil Haddad, head of the Melkite Catholic community, backed Kerry, calling him “a man of high caliber.” But political science student Feras Sababha, 19, preferred Bush, saying he was a strong leader who will “press ahead with the policy of reform in the Arab world.”

In Israeli newspapers, the U.S. election topped front pages, overshadowing even big local stories – Yasser Arafat’s illness and a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv.

“Kerry or Bush,” read the red, white and blue headline in the daily Yediot Ahronot.

“A day that will decide the fate of the world,” read a banner headline in Britain’s Independent.

Many rooted for one side with a kind of intensity sometimes lacking in their own domestic elections.

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 – left little doubt that Kerry is the preferred choice across much of the globe. But while popular opinion was sometimes skeptical of Bush, he has support from the leaders of foreign countries as diverse as Britain, Australia, Russia and Japan.

In Europe, Bush remained a tough sell.

“The man to beat,” France’s Liberation said in big type above a picture of Bush. In Germany, where Bush is deeply unpopular, Michael Moore’s anti-Bush film “Fahrenheit 9/11” was prime time fare on television on election eve.

Many places have held mock polls, such as the artists, writers and professors in the Italian region of Tuscany, who organized what they billed as “the first American elections for non-Americans.”

At the heart of the matter is a belief that in an era of globalization, when American decisions affect hundreds of millions around the globe, the election is not just a U.S. issue.

“Why shouldn’t the Italians vote for the elections, too?” said screenwriter Michele Cogo. “The planet’s destiny is decided in large part by America.”

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

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Russian President Vladimir Putin, for instance, have signaled their preference for Bush.

“I don’t want to interfere in another country’s election, but I’m close to Bush so I’d like him to do well,” said Koizumi, who sent 500 Japanese troops to Iraq on a humanitarian mission.

Putin has said a Bush defeat would mean a “new impulse” for terrorism, though he has declined to make an explicit endorsement. Bush has toned down criticism of Russia’s heavy handed campaign against separatist rebels in Chechnya in return for Putin’s support in the war on terror.

The politicians who were keeping quiet – the usual practice regarding another country’s elections – had a big stake as well.

For France and Germany – dubbed “Old Europe” by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld – a Kerry White House would mean a chance of mending ties, but could bring newfound complications. Both nations refused to help Bush in Iraq, but may have a problem saying no again if Kerry makes good on his campaign pledge to seek more allies in the war.

If Kerry wins, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder may face pressure to back off his refusal to send troops to Iraq.

“If a newly elected president calls for a new contribution that we’ve refused up to now, it won’t be so easy to reject as it fortunately has been with the enemy image of Bush,” former defense minister Rudolf Scharping said.



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