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Splitsville For French President?

Picture dated 14 July 2007 of French president Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife Cecilia at Bastille day ceremony in Paris.
AFP
Reports that President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife, Cecilia, have taken steps toward a divorce grew ever more insistent Wednesday, fueled by the absence of denial from the couple.

If they split, the Sarkozys would be setting a precedent in France. The reports have even sparked some speculation about possible constitutional obstacles to a presidential divorce.

Although few believed that the law would stand in the way of the Sarkozys, debate over it in the media indicates how far the speculation has gone.

Rumors that the couple - whose 11th wedding anniversary is on Oct. 23 - was on the verge of officially separating have spread for weeks, and French media have widely reported the suspicions - with numerous "no comments" but no official denials.

On Wednesday, the respected newsweekly Le Nouvel Observateur reported on its Web site that the couple had informed a judge they are separating. It said, without citing sources, that Sarkozy, 52, and his 49-year-old wife "went before a judge together at the end of the day on Monday, Oct. 15, to materialize the separation procedure of the couple."

CBS News producer Bob Albertson reports Observateur editor-in-chief Guillaume Malaurie appeared on a French television news talk show Wednesday, but would not elaborate on the precise stage of the Sarkozys' legal proceedings.

When asked by the show's host if a divorce had been pronounced, Malaurie said only that it, "will go fast".

Malaurie defended his decision to go public with such a private, and officially secret, matter by stressing that throughout his political career Sarkozy has maintained that his marriage was part of he and his wife's success, and influenced choices in staff and policy-making.

A different version of the divorce was reported by news channel LCI. It said on its Web site that Cecilia Sarkozy saw a judge alone Monday morning and the judge later visited the presidential Elysee Palace to give Sarkozy a document to countersign.

Neither version could be confirmed, despite numerous calls to court officials.

"I have no comment to make on this subject," said government spokesman Laurent Wauquiez. Sarkozy, he added, had been in a good mood at Wednesday's weekly Cabinet meeting.

Even so, no one in France would be surprised by a split between the president and his enigmatic wife. The Sarkozys separated for several months in 2005, getting back together as the presidential campaign began moving into high gear. However, Cecilia Sarkozy did not vote in the final round of the election in May and has rarely appeared with her husband in public since.

French presidential spokesman David Martinon has said that Sarkozy would travel alone on a state visit next week to Morocco.

All this adds to the speculation.

In the daily Liberation, two experts argued in a full-page commentary Wednesday that Article 67 of the constitution, added to bolster presidential protection, prevents anyone, wife included, from bringing an action against the president.

"Even divorce by mutual consent appears complicated," wrote Norbert Foulquier of the University of Evry and Vincent Valentin of the Sorbonne.

A contingent of constitutional experts disagrees.

Article 67 "is made to protect not the man, but the presidential function," constitutional law specialist Didier Ribes said.

A president's divorce would be a "purely private procedure ... between two private people," he said.

In addition, he added, the French Constitution protects the freedom to tie the matrimonial knot - or to untie it.

In the case of the Sarkozys, it is unclear who might initiate a divorce action, or whether it would be mutual.

In the past, Sarkozy freely displayed his emotional attachment to his wife and has praised her as first lady despite her stated desire to shun the title.

Cecilia Sarkozy bowed out early from the couple's first state event, a G-8 summit in Germany in June. She was a no-show at a lunch offered by U.S. President Bush in August, when the Sarkozys vacationed in New Hampshire. Sarkozy said his wife had a sore throat.

The vacation was the last time the presidential couple was seen together.

Cecilia Sarkozy dramatically raised her profile during a July mission to seek the release of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor jailed in Libya. Sent by her husband, she negotiated directly with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. However, she failed to accompany her husband to Bulgaria to pick up that nation's highest state honor.

Both of the Sarkozys have been previously married. They have two children each from their previous marriages, as well as their own son, Louis.