Eager Apple fans rushed to stores in Europe and Japan on Thursday to become the first owners of the latest-generation iPhone as it made its global debut in five countries.

The iPhone 4, which boasts video chat, high-definition video and sharper screen resolution, hit Britain, France, Germany and Japan before going on sale in the United States later on Thursday.

In Paris, Senegalese businessman Bassirou Gueye was among some 350 people who queued before the opening at 8:00 am (0600 GMT) of Apple's flagship store, located in the chic underground shopping mall of the Louvre museum.

"I made a special trip to Paris to buy the iPhone 4. I'm interested in its high-tech features," said Gueye, a self-avowed Apple aficionado who already owns half a dozen bandname devices.

In Germany, there were long queues in Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt, Cologne and Hamburg of Apple fans hoping to get their hands on the new handset, with phone company Deutsche Telekom complaining it did not have enough.

In the capital Berlin, the main outlet opened its doors at midnight (2200 GMT) while in other cities eager buyers had to wait until 7:00 am (0500 GMT) for stores to let the crowds in.

"There were hundreds of people waiting (in Berlin). It took us until 4:30 am (0230 GMT) to clear the queue," Deutsche Telekom spokesman Dirk Wende said.

"By lunchtime iPhones in the high tens of thousands have already been sold. In Munich we have sold out."

Bild, the mass-circulation daily, did its bit to help, calling Steve Jobs's new gadget "even cooler and better looking. The unbelievably sharp new display sets new standards."

Deutsche Telekom, which has the exclusive rights for the phone in Germany, complained that it could have sold more.

Some 500 customers waited in line outside Apple's flagship Regent Street store in London when it opened its doors at 7:00 a.m. (0600 GMT) - far more than those who queued for the launch of the iPad tablet last month.

First in the doors was Ben Paton, a 23-year-old student, who had queued for 16 hours. He described the feeling of holding the new phone in his hands "absolutely incredible, amazing.

"It's a once in a lifetime opportunity. I'd love to do it again," he said.

Japan's eastern time zone put it first in line to sell the phone and hundreds braved sweltering humidity outside Apple's store in the Ginza district to get their hands on the smartphone.

Ryoichi Hoshino was the first to emerge triumphantly clutching the new handset after Apple staff gave a loud countdown ahead of the release.

"I love this design, it's going to beat my expectations 110 percent," he enthused. "I'm going to use it to watch movies and use Twitter," he said, referring to the micro-blogging site.

The original iPhone launched in 2007 brought smartphones to the masses. Apple has sold more than 50 million of the handsets in the past three years.

But its latest version enters a crowded market full of rivals boasting bigger screens and running on Google's open-source Android operating system, which is more accessible to developers than Apple's tightly guarded system.

The launch of the latest iPhone has been beset by various problems culminating in the white model being delayed to the second half of July owing to unspecified manufacturing difficulties.

"The availability of the more popular iPhone 4 black models is not affected," Apple said in a statement Wednesday.

AT&T, the exclusive network carrier for the iPhone in the United States, was forced to suspend a troubled early-ordering process due to heavy demand. Apple said it had received a single-day record 600,000 orders for the new smartphone.

France's SFR carrier also halted pre-orders after only three days due to heavy demand that threatened to affect stock levels for the launch on Thursday.

The new iPhone will be available in 18 other countries in July and 24 more in August.