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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 January 2008, 11:54 GMT
Sarkozy 'serious' about ex-model
Nicolas Sarkozy with his girlfriend Carla Bruni visiting Egypt on 30 December
Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni holidayed in Egypt in December
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said his relationship with former supermodel Carla Bruni is "serious" but refused to reveal any wedding plans.

He told reporters there was a "strong chance" the media would only learn about the wedding after the event.

The whirlwind romance between the two has been making headlines in France and Ms Bruni's native Italy for weeks.

Mr Sarkozy, 52, and his wife Cecilia announced their divorce in October, after being married for 11 years.

Carla and I have decided not to lie
Nicolas Sarkozy

His popularity has fallen by several points according to several opinion polls since the New Year, a decline attributed by many to the over-exposure of his private life.

Many French people increasingly see his romance with Ms Bruni as impulsive, flashy, vulgar and, most importantly, distracting from his work as president, the BBC's Emma Jane Kirby reports from Paris.

But at a press conference in Paris, Mr Sarkozy also defended his political record since becoming president in May, commenting on everything from the need for French economic reform to his relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Jagger and Clapton

The French leader said he and his girlfriend wished to "break with a hateful tradition of hypocrisy" by making their relationship public.

Carla Bruno performing on her guitar in Paris in 2003
An Italian newspaper broke news of a wedding proposal

"Carla and I have decided not to lie," he said, in what the French news agency AFP reports was a clear allusion to the late President Francois Mitterrand's concealment of an illegitimate daughter for years.

Mr Sarkozy has three children, two from his first marriage to Marie-Dominique Culioli, and the third by Cecilia.

Ms Bruni, 39, has a young son from a previous relationship with philosopher Raphael Enthoven.

At various times, she was also linked to men including Mick Jagger, Donald Trump and Eric Clapton.

She has made a successful career as a singer since her modelling days.

Record in office

France was in need of change, Mr Sarkozy said, after "decades of reforms being put off, of failed reforms".

Two Nobel economists, Amartya Sen of India and Joseph Stiglitz of the US, would be working on changes in the way French economic growth is calculated to include quality-of-life factors, he announced.

People, he added, "can no longer accept the growing gap between statistics that show continuing progress [in growth] and the increasing difficulties they are having in their daily lives".

Accepting that "the international situation is less good than you could have hoped for", Mr Sarkozy insisted France's own economic strategy would not change.

On employment and education, he called for greater use of positive discrimination, saying there was "not enough diversity" in France, and called for creating universities "where people want to study".

Advertising on public television should be scrapped, he argued, and the shortfall funded by a levy on private TV channels.

On international affairs, the French president defended sending congratulations to his Russian counterpart after the parliamentary election in December, saying it did not affect his ability to criticise him on such things as human rights and Chechnya.

"I prefer to congratulate Putin, while asking him: 'Why did you do that? But bravo all the same for being elected'," he said.



VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Speculation about Nicolas Sarkozy marrying a model



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