The French press on Tuesday read President Nicolas Sarkozy's decision to publicise his romance with supermodel Carla Bruni as a bid to divert attention from his political troubles with a "Christmas fairy tale".
"Like a true PR champion the president is trying to distract from the problems of his mandate," from France's economic doldrums to the controversy sparked by Libyan leader Muammar gaddafi's visit, wrote the popular Le Parisien.
"It's going to be the Christmas fairy tale: Carla and Nicolas," wrote the paper, a day after the release of photos showing Sarkozy, 52, and Bruni, 38, together at the Disneyland theme park near Paris.
By allowing the celebrity tabloids to publicise his romance, it suggested the president hoped to "eclipse the worries of the French, from spending power to social tensions, and the government's falling popularity".
"The Libyan dictator's mug gives way as if by enchantment to a pretty little Italian face," agreed the Dauphine Libere.
"Nicolas Sarkozy switched attention from gaddafi's controversial visit to his romance with Carla Bruni, just as previously he switched from protests over pension reform to his divorce with Cecilia," wrote the Midi Libre.
"Short of a true Christmas gift for the French on the question of purchasing power, Nicolas Sarkozy has spun a charming fairy tale straight from EuroDisney. But he should be careful not to treat us like Mickey Mouse," it wrote.
Point de Vue, one of three magazines due to publish the photos this week, insists that Sarkozy — who divorced his second wife Cecilia in October — wanted his new relationship to be known.
Although the Communist daily L'Humanite noted Sarkozy had "sworn blind he would never again put his private life on display" —few papers registered surprise at the news of the president's fresh love interest.
"He needs a glamourous image, he needs to make people dream," wrote Le Courrier Picard. "A former top model turned popular singer and international star —what more could he ask for?"
For the Republique du Centre, Sarkozy has "an ever-so-slightly macho need to put some 'virility' back into a job that does not go well with enforced celibacy."
The pro-government Le Figaro noted the striking similarities between Bruni and Sarkozy's former wife Cecilia — both "tall and slender, with high cheekbones and long straight hair." But the Progres de Lyon advised readers to "have no doubt, knowing our president, there will be other first ladies, and they too will be beautiful and famous."