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Inspired by Obama, European minorities take action

FRANCE: An Obama effect is rippling across Europe In France, a pro-Barack Obama grassroots group created months ago is morphing into a campaign for political diversity. In Britain, a black voter group says it is inundated with calls and attendance is soaring.

In Austria, a Rwandan-born activist has fired off letters to big parties urging them to field minority candidates. And in Germany, the staff of Turkish politician Cem Ozdemir started a Facebook group called "Yes we Cem" - a takeoff on Obama's slogan "Yes we can."

Obama's victory is inspiring hopes and even planting the seeds of action for changing the overwhelming whiteness of Europe's political elite. But it's unclear whether these efforts will pay off or merely fizzle. Although polls showed majorities in nearly every European country favored Obama over John McCain, many say Europe is far from voting for a leader from an ethnic minority itself.

Of course, the victory of the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas has brought hope to many parts of the developing world. But in places like Britain and France, which have long prided themselves on their democracies, it has also emphasized how far their governments are from reflecting racial diversity today.

Europe and the relatively young United States have vastly different histories when it comes to race.

The United States is a lot more diverse: Minorities now make up about a third of all Americans.

By comparison, the Interior Ministry in Germany says "foreigners" made up about 8.2 percent of the population in 2006. And anti-discrimination groups estimate that blacks and people of North African origin - mostly from former colonies - make up at least 10 percent of France. Neither country collects official statistics on race.

Yet only 10 lawmakers in Germany's 613-seat lower house of parliament come from minority backgrounds. And in France, the lower house of parliament has just one black lawmaker among 555 elected from the French mainland.

Paris, Thursday, AP

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