Los Angeles - In what is likely to be his last retreat before becoming the world's most powerful man, US president-elect Barack Obama is stirring up a storm of interest as he holidays in Hawaii.
Paparazzi photographs of the bare-chested politician striding powerfully through the surf. Detailed descriptions of his luxury beachfront hideaway. Analyses of the calibre of his golf swing.
Media reports this week of the Obama family's vacation have clearly overshadowed other Obama news - such as his attitude towards ailing US carmakers or the corruption scandal surrounding the sale of his vacated seat in the US senate.
The photos were snapped by paparazzi perched on a strip of beach adjacent to the family's rented vacation home and were splashed across newspapers, websites and magazines around the world.
Using a long-distance lens, the photographer captured shots of Obama relaxing on the beach in black bathing trunks. Others showed his wife Michelle in a black bathing suit or wrapped in a towel.
The US Secret Service has drawn a seaweed line in the sand outside the Obama retreat to keep onlookers at bay. But according to the Honolulu Star Bulletin, dozens of locals are making their way to the beachfront community hoping to catch a glimpse of the future first family.
Failing that, there were also plenty of local reports offering viewers a peek into the sprawling 500-square-metre house the Obamas are using, which includes a beautiful lagoon-style swimming pool, four-poster beds and a view of a magnificent bay and distant green cliffs.
The house is estimated to have a market value of some 10 million dollars and can be rented for a minimum of 3,000 dollars a night.
Obama spent much of his childhood in Hawaii and in recent years has vacationed on the island every Christmas. Last year he missed the holiday as he was too busy campaigning. This year he will be joined by Valerie Jarrett, a longtime family friend who will be a senior advisor to the president. Also expected are the families of close friends Marty Nesbitt and Eric Whitaker.
Of greater interest to most people was Obama's impressive physique, with fitness experts giving high marks to the 47-year-old's toned body. Interest in the pictures was so great that it crashed the website of the photo agency that took the candid shots. Or maybe the internet fault was the work of Obama sympathizers protesting the invasion of privacy, which included shots of the future first daughters who are normally strictly off limits to photographers.
Others found the snapshots amusing. "Global markets swooned today in reaction to photos showing that president-elect Barack Obama had lost his shirt," wrote humourist Andy Borowitz on the Huffington Post.
"The pictures depicting a shirtless Mr Obama wandering about on a deserted stretch of beach stoked fears that the US' financial woes were deeper than previously reported." (dpa)
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