PARIS – Cecilia Sarkozy, explaining the reasons for her divorce from France's president, told a newspaper she wanted to flee the harsh public spotlight on a complex relationship for the tranquility of the shadows.
President Nicolas Sarkozy bristled at questions Friday over the divorce, saying he would respond as the French want — with no comment.
The Sarkozys announced Thursday they had divorced, setting a precedent for France and spelling the end of a passionate and deeply political power couple who had challenged the traditional role of president and first lady.
A former model who worked as an aide to Nicolas Sarkozy in his long climb to the presidency, Cecilia Sarkozy told L'Est Republicain newspaper that it was "no longer possible" to keep their marriage together after a separation in 2005 that made headlines.
"I am someone who likes the shadows, serenity, tranquility," she was quoted as saying in Friday's edition. "I had a husband who was a public man, I always knew that, I accompanied him for 20 years. ... But me, I think that is not my place. It is no longer my place."
"When you marry a politician, your private life and public life become one," she said, calling that just "the beginning of the problems."
The president bristled and appeared to mock a reporter when asked about the breakup at a news conference in Portugal, where European Union leaders were wrapping up a two-day summit.
"My state of mind is very simple: I was elected by the French people to find answers to their problems, not comment on my private life," he said.
"If you think that the French people elected me for anything other than to work, work, and work more — for the rest, the French ask for no comment from me," he said. "It interests them much less than you, and they are right, and, perhaps, they have a greater sense of propriety, and more discretion."
Cecilia Sarkozy expressed frustration that Nicolas had not asked her opinion when he decided she should not testify at a parliamentary inquiry into her only major public gesture as first lady: helping secure the release of Bulgarian medical workers and a Palestinian doctor imprisoned in Libya.
"I have nothing to hide in this story," she told the newspaper.
Sent by the president, she negotiated directly with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. Critics in France said that, as the president's wife, diplomacy should not have been her place. A French parliamentary hearing into the matter opened Wednesday.
Gadhafi on Friday said he wished he'd had a chance to try to patch things up between them.
"I deeply regret this sudden separation of my two friends," he said in a statement. "The speed with which the separation was made did not give their friends a chance to mend fences."
Friends said the personal blow of the divorce will not dent Sarkozy's energetic leadership as he works to reshape France, make it more competitive, and nurture its alliance with the United States.
Sarkozy's spokesman, David Martinon, insisted the divorce would not "change anything in the functioning of the president's office."
He shrugged off charges from the leftist opposition that Sarkozy timed the announcement to coincide with nationwide strikes Thursday against his reform plans.
The couple's marital problems spurred debate within France about the public discussion of such private matters. Previous presidents' trysts were long kept secret.
This time, media outlets widely reported their troubles, reasoning that Sarkozy himself had advertised his relationship with Cecilia — showing off his chic wife before photographers, calling her or sending text messages when out of town, and saying in a book that they would be together "forever."
Cecilia, in L'Est Republicain, called her ex-husband "a man who is capable of doing a lot for France and the French." She, meanwhile, plans to concentrate on her family.
She said the divorce has been "very difficult" — but added that she has no regrets.
The two had both been married before, and have five children between them. The divorce judge granted the Sarkozys joint custody of their only son together, 10-year-old Louis, who will live primarily with his mother.