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Michael Jackson Reaps Global Support

From France, Michael Jackson (search) devotee Pascale Hatot has been bombarding 5,000 other fans in 96 countries with e-mails urging them not to despair.

Sasha, a Swiss fan writing on the Web, says he's ready to give his life if it will help prove that child-molestation accusations against the singer are untrue. Despite the ruling Communist Party's dislike of public protests, Chinese fans are organizing vigils for the star they call "Maikeer Jiekexun."

From Paris to Chongqing (search), Toronto to Cologne, the gravest crisis in Jackson's stellar career is sparking fierce fidelity from devotees -- fruit of nearly four decades in which Jackson has danced, sung and preached his way into hearts around the globe.

"For me, Michael is Gandhi," said Hatot, the 37-year-old French fan whose eyes welled with tears as she railed at the allegations that Jackson engaged in lewd acts with a boy younger than 14. "He's being persecuted. It's unjust."

"Heal the World," Jackson sang in 1991 -- and the world kept him well-heeled. Jackson's global following and international sales have helped maintain the 45-year-old former child star in Neverland luxury since his U.S. career gradually lost luster after the mega-success of 1982's landmark "Thriller" album and 1987's "Bad."

In markets like France, the lack of headline-hungry tabloids has helped to protect Jackson over the past decade when earlier child-molestation allegations and his increasingly bizarre looks and antics battered his reputation in the United States and Britain, where scandal-sheets call him "Wacko Jacko."

"The United States is a consumer society. They take in artists, consume them and then reject them," said French fan Jerome Buisson, 24. Europeans "listen less to rumors and more to the music."

To international fans, some who admired Jackson long before they understood his lyrics, he is more than a mere singer who led the way in music video and whose dance steps still inspire imitators like Britney Spears (search) or Justin Timberlake.

Instead, people who rallied in support in at least eight cities in Europe and North America after Jackson surrendered to sheriffs last week speak of him with sometimes cultish devotion, describing the King of Pop as a humanitarian whose example offers hope to a world wracked by war and poverty.

"He's one of the great philosophers of our era," said 22-year-old Carole Chambre, among dozens of fans, some with candles, on Paris's Champs-Elysees.

She said Jackson's music guided her through a troubled adolescence.

"I'd put on one of his songs and immediately feel better. I'd say to myself that better things lay ahead," the tourism booking agent said. "His songs are like great vintage wine. As time passes, they remain timeless."

The northern town of Oshikango in Namibia, southwest Africa, has a road named Michael Jackson Way. In the still largely closed-off China of the 1980s, Jackson was one of the few Western artists young Chinese knew of. Budding rock guitarists labored to learn Eddie Van Halen's scorching guitar solo from Jackson's "Beat It" off the Thriller album.

"He is absolutely a gentleman and we trust him," said Jiang Ouzhu, 17, who is expecting at least 100 people to "pray for Michael" at a gathering he's organizing Saturday in Chongqing, a gritty industrial center in China's southwest.

Brice Gansore, a law student from impoverished Burkina Faso who calls himself "Michael" in homage to Jackson, said the singer "made me understand that in life there's always someone, somewhere thinking of you."

"In even the remotest villages of Africa, where there are no televisions or radios, little Africans know Michael Jackson," the 21-year-old said. "There's no space in my heart for anyone else."

Added Imelda Maguire, a fan at a London vigil: "He encourages people to do better."

Since "Off The Wall," Jackson's 1979 album which sold 7.6 million copies in the United States and another 5.7 million internationally, his global success has eclipsed domestic sales, according to figures from his Sony Music label.

Thriller's whopping sales were almost evenly split; 23.8 million international and 22.8 million in the United States. But "Dangerous" and "HIStory" in the 1990s -- when Jackson's behavior got more attention at home than his music -- had combined U.S. sales of 8.7 million, compared to 26.3 million internationally, Sony says.

Since then, however, even the international market has shown signs of fading.

Sony Music says "Invincible" in 2001 topped charts in Australia, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Holland, Hungary, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the United States, but went on to sell just 2.7 million international copies and 2 million in the United States -- respectable but hardly a blinding success by Jackson's standards.

Some international fans acknowledge that the singer's persona of bizarreness has scared music buyers away. Others fear the latest child-molestation accusations may mark his career's end.

"He looks like a freak and that's the main reason why people have become suspicious," said Rahul Prabhakar, 22, a fan in Bombay, India. "His affection for kids is just taken the wrong way."

Broadcasters are grappling with whether to pull Jackson off their air. In Germany, at least two public radios and several private ones say they will not broadcast Jackson's music while he stands accused.

"We can't separate his talents from these very serious allegations that continuously pop up," said Rob Farina, program director at CHUM FM in Toronto, which is not airing Jackson's new single, "One More Chance."

"If these allegations are true," he added, "any parent out there -- or anybody out there -- translates us playing his songs as support for the artist."