TIRANA, Albania (AP) _ Whatever happened to the president’s watch?
One moment President George W. Bush was glad-handing Albanians on Sunday, proudly sporting a watch with a dark strap on his left wrist. Moments later, it was gone.
Did it fall off? Did one of his bodyguards remove it? Or did one of the crowd artfully slip it off his wrist and pocket it?
The United States Embassy in Albania on Tuesday emphatically denied that Bush’s watch was stolen during his visit to the country, where he was acclaimed as a hero.
The Albanian media _ and international Web sites _ is buzzing with video showing Bush’s wrist watch apparently disappearing while he was shaking hands with people in Fushe Kruje, 25 kilometers (15 miles) north of Tirana.
“What the local media is saying is absolutely not true,” an embassy official, who declined to be named, said.
People waiting on the sidewalks on Sunday gave Bush a rapturous welcome, shaking hands with him, grabbing him by the arms and wrists, reaching out to embrace him and even ruffling his hair.
Bush was clearly delighted by the attention and plunged back into the crowd for more hand shaking and to be kissed on the cheek.
But White House spokesman Tony Snow said Bush’s watch was not stolen by someone in the crowd. “The president put it in his pocket and it returned safely home,” Snow said in Washington.
An Albanian bodyguard who accompanied Bush in the town told The Associated Press he had seen one of his U.S. colleagues close to Bush bend down and pick up the watch.
The Top Channel private TV station showed how one of his bodyguards may have talked to the president and then taken the watch from his hand.
Bush’s visit to the tiny Balkan country, the first ever by a U.S. president, was considered as historic.
Albania issued three postage stamps with Bush’s picture and the Statue of Liberty, renamed a street in front of parliament in his honor, awarded him the highest National Flag medal and Fushe Kruje town council also declared him an honored citizen.
© Reuters © AP © Alessandra Benedetti