Berlusconi rejects patch-up with wife, seeks apology

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said even a public apology from his wife would not be enough to salvage his 19-year marriage after she disparaged him in the media.

His wife Veronica said over the weekend she planned to file for divorce, days after criticising Berlusconi for attending an 18-year old aspiring model's birthday party and a "shamelessly trashy" selection of female candidates for European elections.

The 72-year-old prime minister and media magnate issued an emotional public apology two years ago when his wife reprimanded him for flirting with young starlets, but told La Stampa newspaper that he had called in the lawyers this time.

"To tell the truth, there may even be conditions to sue for defamation, but it's best to leave that alone," he said.

Berlusconi lamented to the Corriere della Sera daily that his wife had been "stirred up" and "fallen into a media trap". Asked if a last-minute reconciliation was possible. he said:

"I don't think so, I don't know if I want it this time. Veronica should publicly apologise to me ... And I don't know if that will be enough. It's the third time that she has pulled off a trick like this during an election campaign.

"It really is too much," the prime minister 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 centre-left leader Dario Franceschini demanded Berlusconi stop suggesting his marital troubles had been stirred up by the left.

Defending at length his party's choice of female candidates that Veronica had lambasted as "entertainment for the emperor", Berlusconi said each woman had impressive qualifications.

"We never included any showgirl in the list and the three that we excluded at the last minute were very capable girls, with an excellent education. Anything but showgirls," he said.

"Veronica has believed many inaccurate things written in the press, unfortunately."

He also shrugged off Veronica's anger at his presence at the Naples birthday bash of an 18-year-old woman. Berlusconi said he agreed to stop by at the party only at the insistence of the woman's father, an old friend.

"There's nothing strange here, it's happened several times with birthdays and marriages," Berlusconi said.

The couple's marital problems has quickly become the main conversation topic in cafes and offices across Italy and dominated the front pages of Italian newspapers on Monday. "It's Veronica who must apologise", Corriere's headline declared.

Supporters of Berlusconi have criticised Veronica, who rarely appears with him and has long lived in a separate house, for the latest public clash with her husband. The two have been together for 29 years and were married in 1990.

Berlusconi, who is Italy's second-richest man, has three children aged 20, 22 and 24 with Veronica.

However, it is his two children by his first marriage who play the most prominent roles in his business empire.

Son Piersilvio is vice-chairman of media group Mediaset while daughter Marina chairs holding company Fininvest and publishing arm Mondadori.