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Bush congratulates Obama, U.S. voters

WASHINGTON, Nov. 5 (UPI) -- U.S. President George Bush congratulated Barack Obama, saying Americans can be "proud of the history" made when Obama was elected the first black president.

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"No matter how they cast their ballots," Bush said Wednesday, "all Americans can be proud of the history that was made yesterday."

Obama, the Democratic U.S. senator from Illinois, defeated Sen. John McCain, R-Ill., in the historic election to become the 44th president of the United States.

American voters "showed a watching world the vitality of America's democracy and the strides we have made toward a more perfect union," Bush said.

The president also congratulated McCain for running a determined campaign and said Americans "will always be grateful for the lifetime of service John McCain has devoted to this nation."

By electing Obama, voters chose a president "whose journey represents a triumph of the American story." Bush said. "Many of our citizens thought they would never live to see that day."

The election "is especially uplifting for a generation of Americans who witnessed the struggle for civil rights with their own eyes and four decades later see a dream fulfilled," Bush said.

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Bush pledged complete cooperation from his administration as President-elect Obama makes his transition to the White House and said he will keep Obama "fully informed on important decisions."

"It'll be a stirring sight to watch President Obama, his wife, Michelle, and their beautiful girls step through the doors of the White House," Bush said. "I know Senator Obama's beloved mother and grandparents would've been thrilled to watch the child they raised ascend the steps of the Capitol and take his oath to uphold the Constitution of the greatest nation on the face of the earth."


Pentagon says ready to brief Obama

WASHINGTON, Nov. 5 (UPI) -- The U.S. Department of Defense says it is ready to begin military briefings immediately for U.S. President-elect Barack Obama's transition team.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said Wednesday the Defense Department has made extensive plans for a "smooth transition" from the administration of Republican President George Bush to that of his Democratic successor.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Whitman said, has begun early preparations to minimize disruptions as the administrations change.

"One of the important components of this is ensuring that we've identified and highlighted some of the key department events, actions (and) milestones that a new administration will face in its first 90 days," he said.

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He described the Pentagon's five main transition goals as maintaining continuity of operations; assuring efficient transition of outgoing leadership; assuring the efficient in-processing of the incoming leaders; transferring information to the new administration, and focusing on existing programs while allowing the Obama administration to "focus on its governing processes."


White House, Congress runs cost $5.3B

WASHINGTON, Nov. 5 (UPI) -- The 2008 U.S. campaigns for the White House and Congress were by far the costliest in history, consuming $5.3 billion in spending overall, records show.

The figure, a 27 percent increase over the 2004 campaigns, includes all spending by candidates, political parties and interest groups on all the U.S. congressional and presidential races, the Washington publication Politico reported Wednesday.

Research by the Center for Responsive Politics indicated the major-party presidential nominees -- Democrat U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and Republican counterpart Sen. John McCain of Arizona -- together spent more than $1 billion, itself an unprecedented figure, Politico reported.

The center found that much of the increase was due to Obama's decision to forgo public financing for both his primary and general election runs and instead seek unlimited private donations, which were on track to top $650 million.

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Obama's fundraising success has led to speculation that the Watergate-era public financing system is dead, but some experts told Politico it could still have relevance because most candidates will never be able to match Obama's performance.


U.S. expats, EU workers fete Obama win

BRUSSELS, Nov. 5 (UPI) -- U.S. expatriates and European Union officials jammed a Brussels hotel early Wednesday celebrating U.S. President-elect Barack Obama's victory, observers said.

More than 2,000 people managed to wedge into the Brussels Renaissance Hotel, just a few blocks from EU headquarters, partying into the Belgian morning and praising Obama, the preferred U.S. presidential candidate of most in the crowd, the EU Observer reported.

"These are historical elections, it's absolutely amazing," said Matt Graves, a 37-year-old French-speaking Texan, adding that he was convinced Obama will "greatly improve" U.S. relations with the European Union.

Belgian Eric Mathay, 52, told the Observer that Europeans had high expectations of Obama on international affairs. But he warned that, like French President Nicolas Sarkozy, his popularity was likely to drop after the honeymoon ends.

Zach Ellis, a young U.S. backpacker from New York who happened upon the event after getting off the train in Brussels, said he was dumbstruck that so many Belgians were paying attention to the U.S. election.

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"It's awesome -- the energy, the sympathy of the people in the street," he told the Observer. "They want somebody who's committed to ending our wars overseas -- wars I don't want to fight in."


Minn.'s Coleman holds narrow lead

ST. PAUL, Minn., Nov. 5 (UPI) -- Incumbent U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., held a narrow lead over Democrat Al Franken early Wednesday.

The lead seesawed between Franken, a writer and former performer on NBC's "Saturday Night Live," and Coleman, who found himself in a battle to keep his seat in a year of U.S. voter backlash against incumbent Republicans.

With nearly 100 percent of the precincts reporting, Coleman held 42 percent to Franken's 41.96 percent, with just 1,000 votes out of 3 million separating the candidates. Independent candidate Dean Barkley captured 15 percent of the vote.

Campaign spending for the seat was high as Franken and Coleman spent about $30 million total in advertising.


Floods submerge Kenya farmlands

RHAMU, Kenya, Nov. 5 (UPI) -- Flash floods have affected thousands of Kenyans, whose farmland has been submerged by the overflowing River Daua, relief officials say.

The Kenya Red Cross Society said hundreds of acres of prime northeastern Kenya famland, which had been supporting 1,200 families, is under water after heavy rains, the Integrated Regional Information Networks reported Wednesday.

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Red Cross officials told IRIN that nearly 1,500 acres of farmland in near Rhamu, Kenya, were affected.

"In the last two days we have also been experiencing heavy rains," said Khalif Mohammed, a Red Cross official, adding that he expected the flooding to last another 60 days. He said the flooding has affected recently planted crops as well as maize, vegetables and fruit that were ready for harvesting.

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