INTERNATIONAL

The case of a President's vanishing watch

Dan Glaister

"Street crime is fairly common... Criminals do not deliberately target U.S. citizens or other foreigners, but seek targets of opportunity and select those who appear to have anything of value. Pick-pocketing is widespread." The U.S. State Department's advice for travellers to Albania is presumably not intended for the leader of the free world being escorted by a phalanx of bodyguards.

But on Tuesday it appeared that what was meant to be the crowning moment of George Bush's trip to Europe for the G8 summit a chance to meet and greet, to glad-hand the crowd in a rare sympathetic corner of Europe had been spoiled by an ordinary thief, or a souvenir hunter.

As the villagers of Fushe Kruja, 32 km from Albania's capital, Tirana, crowded around the President on Sunday, applauding and chanting `Booshie, Booshie,' a video appears to show someone in the crowd taking advantage of the melee to take a very personal souvenir: the President's watch.

Video evidence

Video of the beginning of the president's three-minute walkabout shows him in shirt sleeves with a watch on his left wrist. As he works the barrier, leaning over to greet well-wishers, hands repeatedly clasp his wrists and shake his hand. Midway through the unexpectedly warm encounter Bush's wrist is bare: his $50 Timex bearing the Stars and Stripes on its face is missing.

Whether Mr. Bush noticed its disappearance is unclear. Certainly, the retinue of security with him appear unaware of anything untoward happening. And by the time he got to the airport, Mr. Bush was wearing a watch again.

A White House spokeswoman denied that the watch had been stolen or that it had fallen off and been returned. "He took it off," she said. "I'm not going to change what I'm saying. I was told he took it off about the one-minute mark."

Guardian Newspapers Limited 2007

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