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Last Updated: Friday, 18 January 2008, 14:21 GMT
Sarkozy in India protocol issue
By Geeta Pandey
BBC News, Delhi

Nicolas Sarkozy with his girlfriend Carla Bruni
The Indian press is wondering if they will share a hotel suite
French President Nicolas Sarkozy's forthcoming visit to India has sent officials looking into protocol manuals over how to treat his girlfriend.

Mr Sarkozy has been inseparable from ex-supermodel Carla Bruni in the past few months and their romance has been grabbing headlines around the world.

But unmarried couples are still a rarity in a largely conservative India.

Mr Sarkozy arrives in Delhi next week. He will be the chief guest at the Republic Day parade on 26 January.

Speculation

It is not yet known if Ms Bruni, a successful singer, will be accompanying the French president.

A French embassy official in Delhi, who refused to give her name, told the BBC they were "still waiting for a communication from Paris".

"We will inform the Indian government as and when we have the list of people who will be accompanying Mr Sarkozy," she said.

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

But that has not stopped the media from speculating whether the tall and beautiful ex-model will share the plush five-star hotel suite where the president will be hosted.

Or, where she will be seated at the official banquet with the Indian President Pratibha Patil and her husband.

Officials say there is no precedent for a head of state visiting with their girlfriend and there is no mention in the rule book about where she should be accommodated or seated.

"After a lot of consideration and discussion, we have come to the conclusion that it is for France to decide whether Carla Bruni should be treated as the First Lady or not," one foreign ministry official, who did not wish to be named, told the BBC.

'Guest is god'

Officially, the foreign ministry is refusing to comment on the visit, but in private many diplomats are hinting at the "protocol confusion" gripping the government.

"India should not worry about whether they are married or not. They are our guests. In India we have a saying - "Guest is God" - and that's how we should treat them," Professor Pushpesh Pant of Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University told the BBC's Hindi service.

So while officials are hard at work to sort out the weighty matters of protocol, newspaper readers in India are being educated about the lives and loves of President Sarkozy and Ms Bruni.

A lot of column space has been devoted to Mr Sarkozy's divorce last year from his former wife, Cecilia.

Ms Bruni's past liaisons with Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton have been analysed in great detail and her almost naked photographs from her modelling days have been dug out for the centrespreads.

In India, where unmarried liaisons are mostly hidden and live-in couples are generally frowned upon, the French president's rather open relationship has taken most people by surprise.

Some say if recent reports that President Sarkozy has already married Ms Bruni in a secret ceremony in Paris are correct, it will make things a lot easier for his rather conservative hosts.

VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Speculation about Nicolas Sarkozy marrying a model



SEE ALSO
Profile: Carla Bruni
15 Jan 08 |  Europe
Sarkozy romance sparks furore
07 Jan 08 |  Europe
Profile: Nicolas Sarkozy
16 May 07 |  Europe

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