TIRANA The small Albanian town of Fushe-Kruje plans to erect a statue of former U.S. President George W. Bush to commemorate his June 2007 visit, when he was feted as a hero in an outpouring of love for America.
Mayor Ismet Mavriqi said seven Albanian sculptors had entered the competition for the statue he plans to unveil in Bush Square in the town center on June 10, 2010, the third anniversary of Bush's visit.
"If had the final say, I would very much like a three-meter statue, probably in bronze, that captures his trademark way of walking with energy," Mavriqi told Reuters on the phone.
The municipality has already finished the blueprints for rebuilding the square where the statue will stand, he added.
A cafe in Fushe-Kruje and a street in the capital Tirana are already named after Bush.
When Bush visited Fushe-Kruje, he dived into a throng of waiting Albanians and enjoyed a rock-star reception -- a stark contrast with the noisy protests that dogged him elsewhere on that European trip.
The bakery and the cafe where Bush stopped to talk with the owners and a barber, a shepherd and a tailor whose businesses were funded by U.S. micro-loans, have become landmarks visited by Albanians, ethnic Albanians from Kosovo and foreigners.
Albanians have a special affection for the United States, which they credit not only with ending their Cold War isolation but also with leading NATO in 1999 to rescue the Kosovo Albanians from ethnic cleansing by Serbia.
Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia last year, set up a giant statue of former U.S. president Bill Clinton to thank him for his role in NATO's 1999 air war.
Bush, on the first U.S. presidential visit to post-communist Albania, backed independence for Kosovo and urged Kosovo Albanians to be patient. The United States was one of the first countries to recognize Kosovo's independence.