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Obama wants more from Germany

BERLIN (Reuters) - If Europeans had a vote, polls suggest Democratic candidate Barack Obama would be a shoo-in for U.S. president, but his speech to a huge crowd in Berlin showed he would be a more demanding partner than many realised.

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama waves to the crowd after his speech at the victory column (Siegessaeule) in Berlin July 24, 2008. REUTERS/Michael Dalder

A sea of about 200,000 German Obama admirers cheered on the senator from Illinois during a speech in Berlin’s Tiergarten park on Thursday evening, welcoming his call for unity and admission that America had made mistakes.

But beneath the soaring rhetoric, German politicians and newspaper editorials said on Friday, lay a sobering message for Germany and Europe: you must do more.

“His message was that standing together means a willingness to share the burdens and make sacrifices,” Eckart von Klaeden, a senior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, told German radio. “And he talked about civilian, but also military commitments, not only in Afghanistan.”

German daily Handelsblatt said Obama’s references to the Berlin airlift and Cold War showdowns with the Soviets served only as a parallel to the new challenges facing the United States and Europe, from Afghanistan, to Iraq, Iran and the broader fight against terrorism.

“The message that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama delivered in Berlin was clearer and cooler than expected: We are partners, but it’s about to get tough,” the paper wrote in an editorial.

“Those who expected emotional reminiscing and sweet promises from the candidate were disappointed,” it said.

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Obama’s visit to Berlin, part of a week-long tour of the Middle East and Europe that is meant to highlight his foreign policy credentials, received blanket coverage in Germany, where polls show over 70 percent favour the 46-year old Democrat over his Republican rival John McCain.

German television offered uninterrupted broadcasts of “Obama in Berlin” on Thursday, although he spent most of his day behind closed doors in meetings, his hotel or in the gym.

Obama is popular here because he is seen by many as the “anti-Bush” candidate. Unlike McCain, he opposed U.S. President George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq and has vowed to pull U.S. troops out of the country.

But the flipside is that Obama wants a bigger focus on Afghanistan. That is likely to mean new demands on Germany, which has no troops in Iraq but about 3,500 in Afghanistan, the vast majority of them in the calmer north of the country.

An Obama presidency might also lead to clashes with Europe on a range of other issues including trade.

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Top-selling Bild newspaper devoted its first five pages to the Obama visit, saluting one of the catch-phrases from his 28-minute speech: “People of the world -- look at Berlin!”

However, Die Welt daily saw his fulsome references to the German capital as a device to make his real message more digestible to an audience deeply sceptical of military engagement and Bush’s self-declared “war on terrorism.”

“Berlin is beautiful, Berlin is everywhere: It sounds nice but when he then called on people to view the battle against all evil in the world -- terrorism, pollution and inequality -- as a mere extension of the Berlin airlift of 1948, it became clear it was merely a trick,” an editorial in the paper read.

Another newspaper, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, carried a cartoon of a beaming Obama at the Victory Column in Tiergarten, surrounded by a sea of blind-folded people chanting “O-BA-MA!”

Writing by Noah Barkin; Editing by Jon Boyle