The world falls over itself to hail victor who never was

International Reaction
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The Independent US

In the diplomatic version of first towels on deckchairs, the Germans claimed a win. The announced victory of George W Bush, however, was short-lived and ended in confusion and embarrassment all round.

In the diplomatic version of first towels on deckchairs, the Germans claimed a win. The announced victory of George W Bush, however, was short-lived and ended in confusion and embarrassment all round.

The Germans were not alone in falling over in the race to be first to congratulate the new US president. Within minutes of the unofficial television predictions of a Bush win, ministers in Britain, Russia, China, Japan, Germany, France, the Netherlands, the European Union, Turkey, Indonesia and Australia were rushing off warm praise for Mr Bush's "special relationship" with their countries.

In Berlin, President Johannes Rau was effusive: "We know you as a good friend of our country and look forward to the continuation of close friendship of our people during your time in office." Minutes later, realising the result was up in the air,Rau's office scrambled to stop the telegram hitting news wires."What can we do?" a spokesman said. "One wants to be first sending best wishes."

In London, the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, was ready to forget New Labour's close ties with the Democrats. "I am confident that we can build the same relationship with the new president," hedeclared.

"I'm quite sure that George Bush will very quickly establish his authority as president," said Mr Cook. "I'm sure Mr Blair will want to convey his very early congratulations to him. We will be working closely together."

Russia and China, the two former Cold War enemies of the US, were also swift to welcome Mr Bush. Kremlin apparatchik Sergei Prikhodko said Russia hoped for "mutual advantageous dialogue and joint action with the new administration".

The official Chinese news agency, Xinhua, was also welcoming, but far less effusive than the Japanese. "We welcome from the bottom of our hearts Bush's victory in the presidential election," Hiromu Nonaka, of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said in Tokyo.

After the inglorious rush to congratulate came the scramble to retract. The Dutch led the field. "Given that uncertainty exists about the outcome of the American presidential elections, the earlier statement ... has been retracted," it said.

The Swedes, though, avoided this cycle of sycophancy and mortification. Speaking of a Bush win, prime minister Goran Persson, unlike Mr Cook, refused to ignore his party's links with the Democrats. "It's a pity, but that is the wish of the American people and we have to work with their choice. I look forward to that."

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