- Associated Press - Thursday, October 20, 2011

PARIS (AP) — Proud papa Nicolas Sarkozy, the first French president to have a baby while in office, said Thursday he and wife Carla Bruni-Sarkozy feel “a very profound happiness” over the birth of their first child and added that mother and daughter are doing very well.

It was the French leader’s first official comments about the birth, which took place Wednesday at a maternity clinic in western Paris. He did not give the baby’s name, in keeping with the couple’s coyness throughout the pregnancy and labor.

“We are lucky to have been blessed by a new arrival,” MR. Sarkozy told journalists on a visit to a waste management plant in western France. “All parents can understand the very profound happiness Carla and I feel, and at the same time everyone can understand that this happiness is all the more profound because it is private.”

Privacy was the guiding principle of the baby’s hush-hush birth. Police officers posted outside the maternity clinic for the past weeks kept the journalists at bay, and it was largely the head of state’s frequent visits Wednesday that tipped the news media off as to what was going on inside.

The tight control over news of the birth appears to be part of a strategy aimed at portraying Mr. Sarkozy as fully absorbed in resolving the problems gripping France and Europe.

The eurozone debt crisis took priority over the baby on Wednesday, as Mr. Sarkozy jetted off to Frankfurt for a last-minute meeting with the German chancellor while his wife was in labor. He was absent for the child’s birth shortly before 8 p.m. (2 p.m. EDT), according to BFM TV, but visited the clinic upon his return to Paris.

He also made an early morning visit to the clinic on Thursday, ahead of the previously scheduled trip to the waste management plant. Mr. Sarkozy was presented with an oak sapling in honor of his daughter.

Asked about the baby’s name, Mr. Sarkozy said he would “allow the mother the pleasure of telling you herself.” In a rare interview during her pregnancy, Mrs. Bruni-Sarkozy vowed to keep her baby out of the spotlight and pledged not to release any photos of the infant.

In a letter to Mr. Sarkozy, British Prime Minister David Cameron told the French leader that he and his wife, Samantha, were “thrilled to hear the news.” Last year, Mrs. Cameron gave birth to a baby girl while her husband was in office.

It was not clear whether Mr. Sarkozy’s new daughter might help bolster his dismal approval ratings. In France, politicians’ private lives  historically have remained just that, and people here seemed largely unaffected by news of the first baby’s birth.

Parisian Olivier Cottarel seemed to sum up public opinion, saying: “I’m happy for Mr. Sarkozy and his wife, but that’s it. It don’t care that much, in fact.”

Communication expert Christian Delporte said the baby’s birth could play out as a boon for Mr. Sarkozy or potentially further damage the already wildly unpopular leader as the presidential campaign heats up.

It could “soften his image” and humanize him, Mr. Delporte, who heads the Center for Cultural History and Contemporary Societies, told Le Figaro newspaper. However, given “the country’s suffering, the image of him happy with his wife (and baby) could appear almost indecent.”

Still, the birth marked a historic event — the first time a French president has had a child while in office.

Mr. Sarkozy’s eventful private life also has set other benchmarks: He’s the first president here to divorce and remarry while in office.

Mr. Sarkozy and Mrs. Bruni-Sarkozy, a former supermodel, were wed in a small private ceremony in the Elysee Palace, the French president’s official residence, in February 2008, less than a year after Mr. Sarkozy took office and fewer than four months after his divorce from his second wife, Cecilia Ciganer-Albeniz.

The president has three boys from his two previous marriages, while Mrs. Bruni-Sarkozy has one son from a prior relationship.

Mr. Sarkozy is expected to seek a second mandate in presidential elections six months away. However, recent polls put his chief rival, Socialist candidate Francois Hollande, in the lead.



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