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Europe

Obama's World Tour Moves On to Paris, London

After receiving a welcome Berlin usually reserves for rock stars and soccer players, US presidential candidate Barack Obama moved on to Paris, where President Sarkozy called him a "buddy."

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama waves as he arrives at the Victory Column in Berlin

Obama gave the only public speech of his week-long tour in Berlin on Thursday

As he prepared to meet with the US presidential candidate on Friday, July 25, French President Nicolas Sarkozy told a French newspaper that the Illinois senator was his "buddy."

"Obama? That's my buddy," Sarkozy was quoted as saying in Friday's edition of Le Figaro. "Contrary to my diplomatic advisors, I never thought Hillary Clinton had a chance. I always said Obama would be chosen" as the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party.

"I am the only French person who knows him," Sarkozy said, recounting that he had met Obama during a visit to the United States in 2006, when he was France's interior minister.

Sarko's falling popularity

Sarkozy in front of a French flag

Obama will meet Sarkozy before heading to London on Friday

Sarkozy may do well to present himself as close to the American. The French president is trusted by fewer than 40 percent of his compatriots, but in a poll published July 16 by the Pew Research Center, Obama received 84 percent approval ratings in France, the highest in Europe.

By comparison, Obama's presumed Republican opponent for the US presidency, John McCain, was trusted by 33 percent of French respondents.

Obama's popularity in France is striking in a country where minorities have made little progress toward equality.

For example, in last year's French general elections, only one minority lawmaker was elected from the mainland to the 577-seat National Assembly; 15 others won seats from France's overseas territories, where the majority of the population is black.

In addition, there are no minority senators, and only a small handful of the more than 36,000 city halls throughout the country are occupied by black or Maghreb mayors.

"Racial wake-up call"

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama

Sarkozy said he thought Obama would beat out Hillary Clinton as the Democrat's presidential nominee

Although French law makes it illegal to collect data according to race, it is estimated that 10 percent to 14 percent of France's population of 62 million is of North African or sub-Saharan African descent.

The head of the French civil rights organization CRAN, Patrick Lozes, told the dpa news agency that he hoped Obama's visit would shake things up in France's racial relations.

Lozes said that the visit would have an effect on French public opinion, "which will have to ask itself, If it is happening in the United States, why is it impossible here?"

Obama's presence in France will also serve as a "wake-up call for French leaders, who will be forced to wonder where the Barack Obamas of France are," Lozes said.

That's a great deal to ask of a visit that will last only a few hours.


Obama is scheduled to meet Sarkozy later Friday afternoon at the Elysee Palace and then hold a press conference with the French president before flying off to London to have dinner with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

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