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France's Bruni sues over use of nude image on bags

SAINT DENIS DE LA REUNION, France (Reuters) - French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy is suing a fashion chain for selling bags emblazoned with nude images of her in the latest legal action over the presidential couple’s image.

France's First Lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy attends a ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights at the Elysee palace in Paris December 8, 2008. Bruni-Sarkozy is suing a fashion chain for selling bags emblazoned with nude images of her in the latest legal action over the presidential couple's image. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

At a court hearing on Monday in the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion, Bruni-Sarkozy’s lawyer said the former model was demanding 125,000 euros ($168,300) in damages from local chain Pardon which sold the bags there for a few days.

“This little-known company is using the image of a famous person in a shocking way ... for media attention,” Gesche Le Fur told the court in the island’s capital, Saint Denis.

Bruni-Sarkozy, 40, rose to fame as a model before becoming a pop singer. Public interest in her has surged since her whirlwind romance with President Nicolas Sarkozy, whom she married in February less than three months after they met.

The couple have repeatedly gone to court over image issues, attracting criticism that they are too focused on trivial matters.

The founder and manager of the Pardon chain, which sells clothing and fashion accessories in Reunion but does not trade in mainland France, told the court he had withdrawn the bags from stores at the weekend.

Bruni-Sarkozy’s lawyer said the damages demanded were based on what the first lady’s image would be worth at current modelling rates, although she specified that her client no longer wished to market her image as a model.

The bags showed a picture of Bruni-Sarkozy taken in 1993, during her modelling days. It shows her standing in a pigeon-toed pose, covering her private parts with her hands. An original print of the black-and-white photo by Michel Comte fetched $91,000 at an auction in New York in April.

The bags were on sale last week for 3 euros each. Customers were given a free bag if they spent more than five euros.

The court is expected to deliver its ruling on Thursday.

Sarkozy himself went to court in October demanding a ban on sales of a voodoo doll representing him, sold with a manual encouraging buyers to stick pins in it. An appeals court said the doll was an “offence against the personal dignity” of Sarkozy, but it would be disproportionate to ban it.

The doll court case was widely ridiculed in the French media. Sarkozy was accused of double standards by critics who recalled that, in the name of freedom of expression, he had sided with a French newspaper that printed cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad that caused worldwide uproar in 2006.

The Sarkozys also sued Irish airline Ryanair over an advert featuring Carla musing that thanks to cheap flights, her Italian relatives would be able to attend her wedding to Sarkozy.

A French court ordered Ryanair to pay symbolic damages of one euro to Sarkozy and 60,000 euros to his wife.