ROME – Silvio Berlusconi's wife demanded — and got — a public apology from her husband on Wednesday after the former premier reportedly made flirtatious comments to other women.
Hours after Veronica Lario's open letter to La Repubblica had made headlines in Italy, Berlusconi asked his wife for forgiveness. "Dear Veronica, here's my apology," he said.
"Forgive me, I beg you. And take this public show of my private pride giving in to your fury as an act of love. One of many," said the letter by Berlusconi, released by his Forza Italia party.
In her letter published Wednesday in the left-leaning daily and fierce opponent of Berlusconi, Lario voiced her complaints over what she said was behavior that damaged her dignity as a woman.
Lario was reacting to comments that Berlusconi reportedly made last week during a VIP party after a TV awards show broadcast by one of the media baron's Mediaset channels.
"If I weren't married, I would marry you immediately," Berlusconi told one woman, according to reports widely carried in the Italian press. "With you, I'd go anywhere," he reportedly told another.
The 70-year-old Berlusconi, who has boasted of his success with women in his youth and says he has a sense of gallantry, is known for making comments that some women find inappropriate.
"I see these statements as damaging my dignity," Lario wrote. "To both my husband and the public man, I therefore demand a public apology since I haven't received any privately."
"I have faced the conflicts and painful moments of a long conjugal relationship with respect and discretion," she said. "Now I write to state my reaction," Lario said, calling her husband's comments "unacceptable" and saying they could not written off as mere jokes.
Berlusconi pointed to the demands and pressure of his busy life, admitting that he had been "a bit irresponsible" also because of his "playful, self-ironic and sometimes irreverent personality."
"But your dignity has nothing to do with it, I treasure it as a precious good in my heart, even when I make carefree jokes, a gallant remark," he said. "Believe me, I've never made marriage proposals to anybody."
In a separate interview, Berlusconi called his wife a "special woman" and an "absolute passion of his life."
"When we met, she made me lose my mind," he told the women's magazine A, which released excerpts of the interview on Wednesday.
"She has been and is a wonderful mother. She has never embarrassed me, never," Berlusconi said. "And she is so lenient. ... What more could I want?"
Berlusconi and Lario, a former actress, were married in 1990 after being together for a decade. She is Berlusconi's second wife, and the couple have three children.
Berlusconi often has said it was love at first sight when he saw Lario, then a 24-year-old actress, performing at a Milan theater in 1980. But the marriage has long been rumored to be in trouble.
Lario largely kept out of the public eye during Berlusconi's five-year premiership, which ended after his conservative coalition lost in national elections last April. The two rarely are seen together.
In her few public remarks, Lario has sometimes expressed positions that were not in line with her husband's, such as defending pacifists protesting the war in Iraq, which Berlusconi supported.
This is not the first time the marriage has been in the public spotlight.
In 2003, the flamboyant billionaire acknowledged rumors linking his wife to a left-leaning philosophy professor, Massimo Cacciari, during a news conference with the Danish prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
"Rasmussen is the most handsome prime minister in Europe," Berlusconi said then to the surprise of his Danish counterpart and reporters alike. "I'm thinking of introducing him to my wife because he's much more handsome than Cacciari."
The comments were said to have angered Lario at the time.