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PARIS (Reuters) - France's first lady Carla Bruni spoke openly about her pregnancy for the first time in a newspaper interview published on Friday -- but kept the baby's gender a secret.
Rumors have swirled for months, starting with a story in gossip magazine Closer in April and followed by near-obsessive coverage of Bruni's baby bump, but Friday's interview with regional daily Nice Matin was the first official confirmation the presidential couple are expecting their first child.
Bruni is said to be due to give birth in the autumn, around the time President Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to announce he will run for a second term in next year's election.
Bruni, a singer-songwriter and former model, declined to say whether her baby was a boy or a girl.
"There are some things that one has to keep secret," she said.
Asked why she had been so discreet, Bruni, 43, said: "First in order to protect myself, to avoid having to expose my personal life. It's a great joy for me, but one that is fairly banal after all."
"People have other problems and it would be out of place to talk about it too much," she added.
Photographed by Nice Matin, Bruni appears relaxed and maternal in a flowing pink gown, lounging on a floral-patterned sofa and strolling through the gardens of Fort de Bregancon, the president's retreat in the south of France.
Shots of Bruni taken in May at the G8 summit in Deauville, showing her wearing a black dress with a prominent bump, garnered intense coverage and nearly overshadowed an otherwise protocol-heavy gathering of world leaders.
Friday's interview, the day after the Bastille Day national holiday when many French people are relaxing at vacation homes, had the feel of a well-staged press event, coming on the heels of a photo spread in Paris Match magazine featuring the presidential couple lazing in swimwear at the beach.
With Sarkozy laboring under weak poll ratings nine months from the election, Bruni's pregnancy appears to be a stroke of good fortune that could win sympathy points with some voters.
Sarkozy and his former wife, Cecilia, divorced shortly after he was elected in 2007. He has since accustomed the French public to following episodes of his private life as they are played out in gossip magazines.
While many people say they would prefer a more low-key president, plenty are still interested in Sarkozy and his private affairs. He was recently the subject of a film called "La Conquete" which has drawn nearly 700,000 viewers since it came out in May.
Editing by Paul Casciato