Sarkozy may have married Bruni, French newspaper says

( AFP ) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy is believed to have married former Italian supermodel Carla Bruni at a small private ceremony held at the Elysee palace last week, a French newspaper reported Monday.

In a report posted on its website, L'Est Republicain newspaper quoted an unnamed "source close to a witness who attended the ceremony" as saying that it was a "small, very private" affair held at the presidential palace on Thursday.

Presidential spokesman David Martinon declined to comment.

Sarkozy, 52, told a news conference last week that his relationship with 40-year-old Bruni was "serious" and suggested he planned to marry the former supermodel and pop singer.

"There is a strong chance that you will learn about it once it's already been done," the president had said.

The Journal du Dimanche reported earlier that the couple would marry around February 9.

Rumours about an imminent marriage have been flying since last week and a Paris city hall office in the chic 16th district was besieged by journalists on Thursday who had received a tip-off that the couple were getting married there.

L'Est Republicain journalist Laid Sammari, who wrote the article, told AFP the newspaper had "good reason" to decide to run the story, but added that he was being cautious "because I did not personally attend the ceremony."

Sarkozy on Monday visited Saudi Arabia and Qatar as part of a tour of Gulf countries and was to head to Dubai on Tuesday.

An AFP journalist travelling with the president said he was not wearing a wedding ring on Monday.

The frenzy developed as an Italian news agency then reported that the couple have reserved hotel rooms near Verona, famed as the setting for William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.

Ansa cited "indiscretions" as its source for reports the pair have booked a rural hotel in Bruni's name at San Vito di Negrar in the wine valley of Valpolicella. The name of the hotel and the dates were not given.

In October, Sarkozy became the first French president to divorce while in office when he ended his stormy 11-year marriage to Cecilia Ciganer-Albaniz, with whom he has a 10-year-old son, Louis.

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

Born into a wealthy Turin tyre-manufacturing family, Bruni has a six-year-old son with the philosopher Raphael Enthoven, but she has never married.

Bruni's previous affairs with such rock stars as Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton have made tabloid headlines and she was quoted in a French magazine last year as saying "Monogamy bores me terribly."

After visiting Egypt and Jordan with Sarkozy last month, she may accompany Sarkozy on a state visit to India later this month.

The latest rumours about the marriage drew criticism from opposition Socialists that Sarkozy was putting too much of his private life on public display.

Sarkozy's rival in last year's presidential election, Segolene Royal, charged that the president "has decided to turn events in his private life into public events, like Louis XIV."

"It's a bit like the monarchy, where an event in the king's private life become a political event," Royal told French radio.

Sarkozy's second wife Cecilia lost a bid in court last week to block the release of a book in which she is quoted as described the president as a womaniser and uncaring father.

The book "Cecilia" by journalist Anna Bitton has become a best-seller in French bookstores.

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