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French President Sarkozy hints at marriage with Bruni

09 January, 2008

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PARIS (AFP)-French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Tuesday described his romance with Carla Bruni as "serious" and suggested he will marry the former Italian supermodel and pop singer.

"There is a strong chance that you will learn about it once it's already been done," Sarkozy told a press conference when asked about reports that a wedding is planned next month.

"It is serious," he said of the romance, which has unleashed a media blitz since the couple were first photographed in December visiting the Disneyland theme park near Paris.

Three months after divorcing his second wife Cecilia, Sarkozy has been under pressure to comment publicly on his relationship with 40-year-old Bruni amid signs that the celebrity spotlight could be hurting his approval ratings.

Recent polls have shown he has slipped three to four points, while one showed a seven-point plunge in his rating to 48 percent -- the lowest since his election in May.

Dubbed "the Bling-Bling president" by left-wing critics, Sarkozy has been accused of parading his romance in the media while neglecting the public's day-to-day concerns.

Elected on a promise to bring in sweeping reforms, the president is facing criticism that he has been unable to rev up the economy, with projections showing growth will remain sluggish in 2008.

Recent photos of Sarkozy and Bruni at the Egyptian resort of Luxor and the ancient Jordanian city of Petra fueled charges that he was holidaying while the French at home were struggling with a rising cost of living.

Defending his reform agenda, Sarkozy nevertheless suggested he had little leverage and that state finances were already stretched to the maximum.

"Concerning purchasing power, what do you expect from me?" he said. "That I empty coffers that are already empty?".

The 52-year-old president denied using his relationship with Bruni to divert attention from France's economic woes and took a swipe at critics who say he is overexposing his private life.

"I never gave instructions to any media to follow me around," he said at his first major news conference since he replaced Jacques Chirac.

Sarkozy said he wanted to "break with a hateful tradition of hypocrisy", in reference to President Francois Mitterrand's illegitimate daughter, whose existence was kept secret by the press for years.

"You would have never asked this question to any of my predecessors," he told the journalist who asked about his relationship with Bruni -- the second question asked at a two-hour news conference.

"Carla and I have decided not to lie," said the president.

Bruni may accompany Sarkozy on a state visit to India later this month, and an Indian foreign ministry official said her presence would cause "no protocol problem from our side".

In October, Sarkozy became the first French president to divorce while in office when he ended his stormy 11-year marriage to Cecilia, with whom he has a 10-year-old son, Louis.

He also has two sons, Pierre, 22, and Jean, 21, from a previous marriage to Marie-Dominique Culioli.

Born into a wealthy Turin industrial family, Bruni made a second fortune in modelling and music, becoming one of the world's best paid models at the height of her catwalk career.

She had a surprise hit with the release of her first pop album "Quelqu'un M'a Dit" (Someone Told Me) in 2004.

Bruni's previous affairs with such rock stars as Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton have provided regular fodder for the tabloid press and she was quoted in a French magazine last year as saying "Monogamy bores me terribly".

Education Minister Xavier Darcos defended Sarkozy's romance.

"I believe that a happy president, and I was about to say a president in love, is a president that has without a doubt more of a bounce in his step and will be more energetic and efficient in fulfilling his duties," he said.


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