Sunday, January 6, 2008

"French President Sarkozy to marry model / Pop star Carla Bruni"

PARIS (AFP) — French President Nicolas Sarkozy is to marry his new girlfriend, the former model turned pop singer Carla Bruni, a French newspaper reported Sunday, claiming a wedding was "imminent."

Citing several anonymous sources, the Journal du Dimanche said the couple, currently on a private visit to Jordan at the invitation of King Abdullah II, are believed to have set a wedding date for either February 8 or 9.

Presidential spokesman David Martinon declined to comment on the front-page report, which was widely relayed on French radio and television.

Sarkozy, 52, and Bruni, 39 -- a rich heiress whose past conquests include rock stars Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton -- have been trailed by a swarm of paparazzi since their romance was first publicised in mid-December.

During a Christmas trip to Egypt, where their presence sparked a media stampede, the president reportedly gave Bruni an engagement ring -- a pink diamond heart -- while Bruni gave him a luxury Swiss watch in grey steel.

Newly divorced from his second wife Cecilia, Sarkozy has yet to comment publicly on his relationship with Bruni, but is expected to answer the media's questions at a New Year's press conference on Tuesday.

The report of marriage came as a poll showed Sarkozy's confidence rating slipping seven points -- a drop blamed in part on voter concerns about his highly-publicised new romance.

The couple were photographed on Saturday as they toured the rose-red city of Petra in southern Jordan, the president carrying Bruni's young son Aurelien on his shoulders.

Bruni may also accompany Sarkozy on an official trip to India late this month, according to local media, which said the government of the morally conservative country was struggling to find the right protocol to greet her.

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. He also has two sons, Pierre, 22, and Jean, 21, from a previous marriage.

An elegant brunette and heiress to a tyre fortune, with a reputation as a "man-eater," the former supermodel had a surprise hit with the release of her first pop album "Quelqu'un M'a Dit" (Someone Told Me) in 2004.

Politically she has placed herself on the left, telling a British newspaper last year that she would vote for Sarkozy's rival Segolene Royal in the May presidential election.

Bruni's mother Marisa Tedeschi Bruni -- who accompanied Sarkozy on a trip to the Vatican last month -- has been quoted in the Italian press saying the president had asked for her daughter's hand, and that she had gladly agreed.

While polls initially suggested a majority of voters saw Sarkozy's romance as a strictly private affair, there were growing signs the paparazzi fuelled coverage of his love life could be harming his confidence rating.

According to a CSA poll published Sunday in Le Parisien, 48 percent of voters say they trust the president to tackle France's problems, compared to 55 percent last month. Forty-five percent said they did not trust him, compared to 38 a month before.

CSA director Stephane Rozes said the slip chiefly reflected fears about the economy and falling disposable incomes, but probably also unease among older voters -- he fell 15 percent among the over-60s -- about his new romance.

"The intense media coverage of the president's private life, touching on the image of the presidential function, appears to bother (his) traditional supporters," Rozes told Le Parisien.

The left-wing opposition meanwhile accuses Sarkozy of putting his love life on display to deflect attention from France's economic troubles.

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