France abuzz with Sarkozy separation rumours

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PARIS, Oct 5 (Reuters) The state of President Nicolas Sarkozy's marriage was in the spotlight again today after a spokesman sidestepped a question about speculation France's ''first couple'' were about to announce their separation.

The rumour mill went into overdrive this week after Cecilia Sarkozy pulled out of an official trip to Sofia with her husband, who received Bulgaria's top award for his efforts to win the release of six nurses from a Libyan jail in July.

''Where has Cecilia gone?'' the Le Parisien newspaper asked this week of the former model who has appeared beside her husband only fitfully since his election victory in May.

Asked if Cecilia Sarkozy would announce a separation this weekend, Sarkozy's spokesman David Martinon told a briefing: ''I don't comment on newsroom rumours, and certainly not that one.'' French media have traditionally been coy about the private lives of public figures but the prospect of a divorcee leading the country for the first time in the modern era has fuelled interest in the couple's marriage.

One of his closest advisors when interior and finance minister, Sarkozy played up the ''golden couple'' image until Cecilia left him in 2005 for an advertising executive.

Sarkozy broke new ground by acknowledging his marriage was in trouble on national television. He dated a journalist but when the couple reunited six months later, Sarkozy said it was ''doubtless for ever''.

TELEVISION NO-SHOW The latest rumours were fuelled by news that Cecilia had pulled out of a television show on her close friend Rachida Dati, the French justice minister, in which the president was also to appear.

The renewed divorce speculation comes only five months into a Sarkozy presidency that began with the couple publicly kissing in the Elysee Palace on inauguration day.

The embrace appeared designed to scotch persistent rumours about their private life which had resurfaced during an election campaign in which Cecilia kept a very low profile and did not even vote in the second round ballot on May 6.

She appeared at his side during victory celebrations, at his inauguration dressed in a glamorous Prada gown, for the Bastille Day public holiday on July 14 and the G8 summit in Germany.

But she famously snubbed US George W Bush during a family vacation in the United States this summer, and set tongues wagging again by her no-show in Bulgaria.

Sarkozy said she had been hurt by attacks over her role as his personal envoy to Libya, where she twice travelled to secure the release of six Bulgarian medics convicted of infecting Libyan children with the HIV virus.

The president had said his wife would define the sort of first lady she intended to be in September, but the deadline passed, leaving only the doubts she had herself expressed.

''I don't see myself as a first lady. It bores me. I'm not politically correct,'' she told an interviewer two years ago.

REUTERS PDT VC2055

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