Days after attacking him publicly for acting the emperor with a harem of young girls, Silvio Berlusconi's wife Veronica Lario has called time on her 16-year marriage and is seeking a divorce. "I want to bring down the curtain," Ms Lario was quoted as saying in La Repubblica. "I am convinced that at this point it would not be dignified for me to stop here. The road of my marriage is marked, I cannot stay with a man who surrounds himself with minors."
She was referring to last week's revelation that the Italian prime minister had jetted down to the outskirts of Naples, a golden diamond-studded necklace in hand, to attend the 18th birthday party of a girl called Noemi Letizia. The nature of Mr Berlusconi's relationship with Noemi remains ambiguous. The prime minister's claim that he had made the family's acquaintance because the father had been the chauffeur of his old friend and political patron Bettino Craxi, was rejected by several sources.
Both Noemi and her mother Anna refer to Berlusconi as "Daddy", and La Stampa yesterday quoted Veronica as saying what all Italy has been thinking about the young woman whose chubby cheeks and small eyes are strikingly reminiscent of the prime minister's: "Perhaps she is his daughter."
Whether she is a love child or merely the latest "Berlusconi butterfly", Noemi was the last straw for Ms Lario, the "casus belli" for divorce. The announcement of divorce proceedings reduced the usually verbose Italian leader to a single, terse, sentence. "It is a personal issue that pains me, which is in the private sphere, and about which I feel it is my duty not to say anything," Mr Berlusconi said in a statement. Later he was seen getting into a car outside his Roman apartment, apparently headed for Milan where he and Ms Lario maintain separate homes. He declined to speak to waiting reporters.
Mr Berlusconi has often described the moment in 1980, when he first clapped eyes on the 24-year-old Ms Lario performing at a Milan theatre as love at first sight. "When we met, she made me lose my mind," he once told a women's magazine. The pair wed 10 years later and had three children, now all in their20s.
Their marriage was long reported to be in trouble. In 2003 the Italian prime minister used a state visit by the Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen to make reference to the rumours linking his wife to philosophy professor, Massimo Cacciari. "Rasmussen is the most handsome prime minister in Europe," Mr Berlusconi told a shocked press conference. "I'm thinking of introducing him …