Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi demanded an apology Monday from his wife after her public complaints over his roving eye and admitted their stormy marriage appeared to be heading for divorce.
"Veronica must apologise publicly," Berlusconi told the Corriere della Sera as he went on the offensive in the couple's media-fuelled row.
"And I don't know if that will be enough," he said after press reports that Veronica Lario had decided she wanted a divorce from the multi-billionaire.
Lario, a 52-year-old former stage actress, sparked the row last week with an open letter complaining at Berlusconi's choice of political ingenues to stand in European Union elections set for June. Several were attractive young women with no political experience, including a former Miss Italy candidate.
"It's the third time she's done this to me in the middle of an election campaign. It's too much," the flamboyant premier told the daily.
Asked whether the near 19-year marriage could survive, Berlusconi said: "I don't think so. I don't know if I want it to this time."
It was a marked change in tack for Berlusconi, 72, who told reporters on Sunday: "This is a painful personal episode which should remain private, and it does not seem to me to be right to be talking about it," he told the Italian media.
Italian media said Lario had been particularly infuriated by her husband's decision to attend an 18th birthday party in Naples last week for the blonde daughter of one of his business associates even though he never went to any of his own children's coming-of-age parties.
"My marriage is over. I can't stay with someone who cavorts with minors," Lario was quoted as saying by one of her friends.
"I read in the papers about how he has been hanging around a minor -- because he must have known her before she was 18 -- and how she called him 'Grandpa' and about their meetings in Rome and Milan.
"This is no longer acceptable. How can I stay with such a man?" she was quoted as saying in La Stampa.
In January 2007, Berlusconi issued a public apology to Lario after she learned through the press of his verbal dalliance with a pretty young lawmaker.
"Please forgive me, and take this public testimony ... as an act of love, one among many," he said after Lario wrote a letter to the daily La Repubblica demanding his contrition, which she said he had failed to show in private.