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Americans in Geneva witness "new dawn"

(Keystone)

Excitement, relief and tears were shared in Geneva on Tuesday night as members of the American community watched Barack Obama become America's first black president.

swissinfo joined more than a thousand Democrats and Republicans who turned out for a bipartisan all-night election party, featuring live music, political debate, a bucking bronco, and much, much more...

Country singer Tony Lewis set the tone for the evening. "How many of you support John McCain?" he asked the crowd at Geneva's Ramada Park Hotel.

Silence, followed by a few muffled cries. "And how many of you want Obama to win?" Cue frantic screams.

As a queue started to build up outside the entrance to the hotel ballroom, inside a band struck up the Star Spangled Banner. Red-blue-and-white plastic hats and Obama and McCain badges bobbed up and down enthusiastically.

"Tonight we will witness history in the making," John Silvin, president of the American International Club of Geneva told the audience. "May the best man win."

Fever pitch

Despite the polls putting Obama well ahead, Democrats seemed to be suffering a collective fever. This was best described as somewhere between excitement that Obama might be about to win and uncontrollable anxiety that they were about to be unseated again at the last hurdle.

"It's very exciting," said one woman. "But people get scared when they get in the booth and then we know what happens."

"I'm really nervous," said Hannah Zuzek, a US public health student from Minnesota. "To know that we have to wait a few more hours is nerve-wracking."

To distract attention, students from the Ecole de Couture de Lausanne put on an exclusive "US Presidential Elections" Fashion Show.

In the crowd, besuited Swiss men tried to impress young female American students with talk of high turnouts and exit polls.

Youth and change

"It's not over till it's over," said Bill Olenick, who has been a Republicans Abroad activist for 22 years. "I've been through many elections in my day and I'm reserving judgement until the tally comes in.

He added: "I just don't trust Obama. During the campaign he promised everything to everyone."

"If McCain were to win?" pondered Zuzek. "I think it would be interesting to see if he stays the same as he was during the campaign or goes back to the person he was before. He does have a great deal of experience and he's a very respected candidate," she admitted.

Brian Ruszczyk, a banker who used to be a Republican supporter, said he wasn't sure whether Obama was a good leader, but was willing to take the risk.

"I changed as I couldn't see myself voting for McCain. I want youth and change," he said.

But he said he felt a lot of people were "voting with their wallets" after the recent financial crisis.

"Overwhelming"

Vie Pressley-Guillot, originally from Harlem, New York, said America was definitely ready for change.

"People are so tired of eight years of Bush. We were cheated out of the elections four years ago. Now with problems in Iraq and Afghanistan and the financial crisis we just can't breathe anymore," she said.

On one of the big screens dominating the ballroom, CNN's Anderson Cooper showed off his knowledge of complex red-and-blue graphics.

Then things started accelerating as the good news for Obama flowed in: projections for Ohio, Pennsylvania and a stream of other states raised big cheers in Geneva.

At 4.45am CNN projected an Obama win in Virginia, a Republican state since 1964.

"He's crushing him. It's overwhelming," someone shouted.

Then at 5am CNN put the remaining diehard Obama fans out of their misery.

California and the West Coast states had pushed him over 270 electoral votes.

On the big screen there were wild scenes in Chicago. Meanwhile, Geneva was more staid as people stared long and hard in disbelief, then clapped, cheered and hugged each other.

"Rebirth"

Obama is president. Yes, really.

"I'm so relieved," said Tara Lee Vaughn. "I'll maybe celebrate by going back to sleep, as I can now sleep peacefully since we have good things to look forward to."

"It's the rebirth of America," said Andy Sundberg, spokesman for the American Citizens Abroad organisation. "I think so many people in so many countries want the real America to come back. It's not so much Obama but America's expression of belief in itself."

"I think Americans will have reason to smile again," said Valerie Mims. "It's going to be very difficult and will take a long time to turn the battleship around, but people now have hope."

For his part, Obama said in his victory speech that "a new dawn of American leadership is at hand".

Back in Geneva, given the time difference and their heavy losses, McCain supporters were conspicuous by their absence.

But just before he left, Olenick had laid bare his thoughts on the Republicans' future.

"Whoever wins will be the President of the United States and we have to support them the best we can," he said.

swissinfo, Simon Bradley in Geneva

A president's last stand

Bush still has more than two months in office. During the final days in power, presidents typically work to push through policies often considered too politically touchy for an official seeking re-election to champion.

The current president is no exception and aides are working to strengthen ways for law enforcement to collect information on suspects in the fight against terrorism. Others are looking to weaken rules regarding pollution controls on coal-fired power plants and to relax laws regarding endangered species. Abortion policies could also be tightened before Bush leaves.

When Bill Clinton left office in early 2001 he granted 140 pardons – including one to his own brother – and declared vast swaths of the western portion of the US off-limits to logging and mining. He also prohibited the construction of new roads through many areas of National Forests, which the Bush administration worked to undo.

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(swissinfo.ch)


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