Fri, Feb 02, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Former Italian head publicly apologizes to wife for flirting

AP , ROME

It was domestic drama at its best -- the kind Italians love -- a scorned wife airing her dirty laundry for the whole country to see. In this case it was Veronica Lario, the usually private wife of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Lario had apparently had enough of Berlusconi's flirtations with other women, and she chose to take her anger public on Wednesday by writing an open-letter to La Repubblica, a newspaper run by his political opponents, saying his behavior had damaged her "dignity."

By the end of the day, the 70-year-old media billionaire was figuratively on his knees.

The rare public remarks by Lario brought new attention to a marriage that has lasted 17 years but has been long rumored to be in trouble, and made headlines in a nation that typically keeps clear of politicians' private lives.

Lario was reacting to comments that Berlusconi reportedly made last week during a VIP party after a TV awards show broadcast by one of the media baron's Mediaset channels.

"If I weren't married, I would marry you immediately," the 70-year-old Berlusconi told one woman, according to reports widely carried in the Italian press.

"With you, I'd go anywhere," he reportedly told another.

"I see these statements as damaging my dignity," Lario wrote. "From both my husband and the public man, I therefore demand a public apology since I haven't received any privately."

"I have faced the conflicts and painful moments of a long conjugal relationship with respect and discretion," the 50-year old said.

"Now I write to state my reaction," Lario said, calling her husband's comments "unacceptable" and saying they could not be written off as mere jokes.

"Dear Veronica, here's my apology," Berlusconi said in his letter, made public by the conservative leader's Forza Italia party. "Forgive me, I beg you. And take this public show of my private pride giving in to your fury as an act of love. One of many."

Berlusconi is not new to making remarks that many find inappropriate.

In 2005, when Berlusconi was prime minister, he joked he had had to use "all my playboy skills" to convince Finnish President Tarja Halonen, a woman, that the EU food agency should be assigned to Italy and not Finland.

Berlusconi has a reputation for publicly recalling his relations with ladies as a young man, and showing off what he call his sense of gallantry.

Citing the demands of his busy life combined with his "playful, self-ironic and sometimes irreverent personality," Berlusconi admitted in his letter that he had been "a bit irresponsible."

"My days are incredible, you know: work, politics, troubles, moving around, public exams that never end, a life under constant pressure," he wrote.

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