updated 10/12/2007 9:37:45 PM ET 2007-10-13T01:37:45

Will they or won’t they?

One question has risen above the cacophony over President Nicolas Sarkozy’s sweeping reforms of France: Will he divorce his wife Cecilia?

Persistent rumors of an impending split materialized into a newspaper article Friday claiming an announcement of divorce plans was imminent. Losing the elegant but enigmatic Cecilia would be the first real blow to the popular Sarkozy since he took office in May.

Sarkozy’s emotional attachment to the first lady, who shuns that title, is not questioned. She worked with her husband when he served as interior minister, and her counsel is assumed to have guided his presidency, including Cabinet appointments.

Numerous photographs, some clearly staged for the media, have showed a couple in the full bloom of life. But there have been no photos recently, only questions.

Sarkozy’s spokesman, David Martinon, said he would not comment on Friday’s report in the daily L’Est Republicain, which cited unidentified sources close to the presidential Elysee Palace. The first lady’s spokeswoman, Carina Alfonso-Martin, said: “We can’t comment on all rumors like that.”

Couple separated for months in '05
The couple’s 11th wedding anniversary is Oct. 23; they separated for several months in 2005. Rumors about their relationship began long before Sarkozy took office, fueled by sightings of Cecilia with another man.

The current crescendo of unconfirmed reports comes barely five months after the presidential inauguration, in which the couple cut a cozy family portrait.

Sarkozy, 52, and his wife, 49, each has been previously married. In photos splashed around the world, the family was lined up in the gilded halls of the Elysee Palace: Cecilia and her two daughters, the president’s two sons and the child from their marriage, Louis. In one photo, Sarkozy caressed his wife’s cheek.

Since then, Cecilia Sarkozy has been mostly absent from her husband’s side, and it became public knowledge that she failed to vote in the final round of the elections that made him president.

Is she willfully enigmatic? Ill at ease as a first lady? Or out of love?

Her role in the release of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor jailed in Libya added to her mystery. Sent by her husband, she negotiated directly with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

But she shunned the limelight when Bulgaria wanted to award her its highest state honor, pulling out of the trip and leaving Sarkozy to pick up the medals alone.

Wife avoided state event
She also bowed out early from the couple’s first state event, a G-8 summit in Germany in June. And she was a no-show at a lunch offered by 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.

On its nightly news Friday, France 3 television showed footage of Cecilia’s last public appearance — when she landed in Bulgaria with the medical workers on a French presidential plane.

A close-up of the first lady faded into static and the voice-over asked the question nagging at France: “Where is Cecilia?”

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