PARIS – Is French President Nicolas Sarkozy about to get married again?
Under the headline "Marriage Imminent," weekly Le Journal du Dimanche, citing several unidentified sources, reported Sunday that Sarkozy would marry his girlfriend — former supermodel Carla Bruni — on Feb. 8 or 9.
The recently divorced French leader has flaunted their unmarried relationship on recent holidays in Egypt and Jordan, fanning criticism that he is playing too fast and loose with the presidential image — and reportedly giving protocol planners elsewhere fits.
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The newspaper report said that in December — less than a month after Sarkozy met Bruni — he gave her a heart-shaped diamond engagement ring.
The presidential palace declined to comment on the report.
Political analyst Dominique Moisi said that a Sarkozy proposal to Bruni could be part of his desire to head off any future controversies, and its speed would fit with his personality as a busy man in a hurry.
"Apparently, he's going to marry her, so the problem will be behind him," Moisi said. "He will multiply the opportunities to travel with her, (and) to say to the French, 'You see, I must remarry ... You need a first lady."'
"He's trying to seduce the French," Moisi said.
Sarkozy and his wife of 11 years, Cecilia, divorced in October. Their marital problems became well known in May 2005 when she appeared in public at the side of event organizer Richard Attias.
A marriage to Bruni, a one-time star of the catwalks who is now a singer, would be Sarkozy's third: He divorced his first wife, Marie, in the late 80s — after he had met and befriended Cecilia.
Bruni, an Italian-born French citizen, has dated famous men including Mick Jagger and Donald Trump. She has also reportedly been linked to singer Eric Clapton and actor Vincent Perez.
Sarkozy, a reform-minded conservative with a pro-American slant, has sought to shake France out of what he considers its hidebound ways by trimming bureaucracy and revving up a stalled economy.
But polls suggest the French are less eager to part with a tradition in which their presidents have kept quiet about their private lives and discretion about amorous matters has been the norm.
"The French reproach Nicolas Sarkozy for making his private life too visible — that he goes a bit too far," said Francois Miquet-Marty, head of political studies at polling group LH2 Opinion. "But people are able to separate his professional duties from his private life. It does not seem to affect their overall view about him."
The relationship has emerged as polls show many in France are growing increasingly wary about Sarkozy's bold campaign-trail promises for change before his election in May. And it is likely to be on many minds when Sarkozy holds a news conference Tuesday.
A poll published Sunday in weekly Le Parisien Dimanche found that less than half of respondents — 48 percent — had confidence in Sarkozy to solve the country's biggest problems, down 7 percentage points from December. Forty-five percent did not, with the rest undecided. The telephone poll of 1,010 adults was conducted Thursday and Friday. No margin of error was provided.
Abroad, Sarkozy's relationship with Bruni has drawn both criticism and confusion.
In India, which Sarkozy is reportedly expected to visit in coming weeks, recent news reports say diplomatic officials have been grappling with how to handle protocol if Bruni accompanies him.
Citing unidentified sources at India's Ministry of External Affairs, newspaper Indian Express reported that Bruni could not receive a reception on a par with that of a president's spouse.
In Delhi, Foreign Ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna declined to comment.
The relationship became public in mid-December when Sarkozy and Bruni visited a Paris-area theme park together with photographers in tow.
After the pair turned up in Egypt on Christmas Day, three Egyptian lawmakers said in parliament that it was improper under Islamic law and traditions that the unmarried couple share a hotel room. Many Egyptians tuned in to coverage of the visit, and some commentators were critical.
On Saturday, Sarkozy was photographed in Petra, Jordan, alongside Bruni while holding a young boy whom the weekly newspaper identified as her son on his shoulders.