ROME (Reuters) - Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's wife wants a divorce, Italian media reported on Sunday, just days after she publicly criticized his party's selection of pretty young women to run in European elections.
"I have been forced to take this step, I don't want to add anything else," La Stampa newspaper quoted Berlusconi's wife Veronica, 52, as saying, adding she had already contacted a lawyer. La Repubblica daily and ANSA news agency also carried the report.
In a two-line statement, the conservative prime minister said: "This is a personal matter that saddens me, that is private, and it seems appropriate not to talk about it."
Last week Veronica, who two years ago demanded a public apology from her husband for flirting with younger women, said his party's choice of female candidates for the European elections was a "shamelessly trashy" process.
She was also incensed by him going to the Naples birthday bash of an 18-year-old woman, the daughter of an acquaintance, saying he had not attended the coming-of-age parties of his own children.
Berlusconi, a 72-year-old media tycoon, has said he was sorry his wife had apparently believed "what she read in the papers," blaming a campaign against him "hyped by the leftist press."
Berlusconi's People of Freedom party has been considering a number of starlets and television showgirls as possible candidates in the June European elections, media reports say. As party leader, he has a powerful voice in who makes the list.
"What's happening today (in Italy) behind a front of bodily curves and female beauty is grave," Veronica said in an e-mail to ANSA last week.
"Some have written that it is all part of entertainment for the emperor. I agree," she added. "What is emerging from newspapers is shamelessly trashy, all in the name of power."
She also said she was surprised that he had dropped by at the party of the Naples woman, who has since said in newspaper interviews she has known Berlusconi for a long time and affectionately calls him "Papi" (Daddy).
A source close to Berlusconi told Reuters there was nothing secret or private about the party.
"Many people and many supporters of the prime minister were there. Many pictures were taken so Mr. Berlusconi had nothing to hide," the source said.
Supporters of Berlusconi have criticized Veronica, a former actress herself who rarely appears with him and has long lived in a separate villa, for the latest public clash with her husband. He is Italy's second-richest man with a fortune of $6.5 billion, according to Forbes magazine.
His party's website has been inundated with messages attacking her. An editorial in Il Giornale newspaper -- owned by Berlusconi's brother -- said she was harming not just her husband but the whole Italian government.
Berlusconi has three children aged 20, 22 and 24 with Veronica. They have been together for 29 years and married in 1990. He also has two children by his first marriage.
He has been in hot water with Veronica several times in a very public way. In 2007, she criticized him in a letter to a newspaper for flirting with young starlets at a party. He later issued a public apology in the press, saying: "I beg you to forgive me."
additional reporting by Antonella Cinelli and Stephen Brown; Editing by Richard Meares