Facing a divorce threat, Premier Silvio Berlusconi was quoted Monday as saying he doesn't know if he wants to patch up his marriage and demanding a public apology from his wife.
The billionaire media magnate's wife, actress Veronica Lario, confirmed Sunday she is seeking a divorce from Berlusconi for his constant flirtations with younger women. They have been together since 1980, married in 1990 and have three children in their twenties, but have lived separate lives for many years.
The top editors of Corriere della Sera and La Stampa wrote in Monday's editions that they spoke with Berlusconi, and the premier is feeling bitter about Lario's revelations that she wants to split.
"Veronica will have to publicly apologize to me. And I don't know if that will be enough," Corriere quoted Berlusconi as saying,
The Milan daily says when it asked Berlusconi if he was thinking of patching up the couple's nearly 30-year-long relationship, the premier replied: "I don't believe so. I don't know if I want to this time."
Berlusconi was quoted as expressing annoyance with his wife, claiming this is the "third time in an election campaign that she plays a joke like this on me."
He added, "To tell the truth, there may even be conditions to sue for defamation, but it's best to leave that alone."
Lario's complaints last week about her husband's reported flirting with younger women comes as the conservative premier is working to keep his Freedom People's party strong in approaching European Parliament elections.
Berlusconi also has two children from his a previous marriage.
Berlusconi claimed in the talks with the Italian newspapers that his wife "fell in a media trap" and that she wrongly believed that he had planned to back three young showgirls as candidates for the European elections.
"We're talking about three talented girls out of 72 candidates," Berlusconi told Corriere. "And what's wrong if they are also cute?"
Last week, Lario, who generally shuns the limelight of her husband's wealth and office, also made known she was irked by her husband's attending the 18th-birthday party of Noemi Letizia, the daughter of a friend of his in Naples.
Lario claimed that Berlusconi never attended the 18th-birthday parties of his own children.
"I am worried and displeased," La Stampa quoted the premier as saying about Lario's desire for a divorce becoming public knowledge. "I had tried to hold together a difficult situation for love of the children, but now it's finished. I don't see the conditions any more to go on."
For his part, the prime minister said there was nothing strange about him attending the party for a friend's daughter. "There's nothing strange here, it's happened several times with birthdays and marriages," he said.
Berlusconi, who on Friday declared himself the world's most popular leader, said he did not believe the media frenzy surrounding his private life would hurt his approval ratings or his party's performance in the European elections in June.
A poll published last month showed Berlusconi's approval ratings rose in April to 56 percent thanks to his swift response to a deadly earthquake in central Italy, while the premier puts his own popularity at just over 75 percent.
Opposition members have declined to comment on the matter and called it a private affair, but center-left leader Dario Franceschini demanded Berlusconi stop suggesting his marital troubles had been stirred up by the left.