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French first lady Cecilia Sarkozy seems ill-at-ease with her role

Now she comes into light, now she does not.

French first lady Cecilia Sarkozy dodged the spotlight during her husband's presidential campaign, then seized it when she helped free Bulgarian medics whose captivity in Libya had turned into an international scandal.

And now, the independent Cecilia has snubbed it again, refusing to go to Bulgaria on Thursday to accept the country's highest medal of honor.

Madame Sarkozy still seems ill-at-ease with her role even as her husband, Nicolas Sarkozy, rides high on his campaign to remake France.

"It's not always easy," said her spokeswoman, Carina Alfonso Martin. "Either way, if she does something, or if she doesn't do something, she is criticized."

The presidential couple decided together that Cecilia shouldn't go to Bulgaria because of the controversy her diplomatic foray in Libya prompted, Martin said. The president flew to Sofia alone Thursday to accept his medal.

After Cecilia Sarkozy brought home the six medics in a French presidential plane in July, French media questioned why she was sidestepping France's traditional diplomacy and playing such a major role. Elsewhere, the Sarkozys were accused of cashing in on years of painstaking negotiations by lower-profile European envoys.

France's opposition Socialists are leading a parliamentary investigation into the release of the medics - which was followed by a major European arms deal with Libya - and hope to question Cecilia Sarkozy. The president's office says she will not show up.

Controversy is not new for the couple.

Their marriage survived a rough patch in the media glare two years ago when Cecilia was photographed with another man in New York. She and Nicolas reunited just in time for his presidential run, but she kept a low profile while he was tirelessly stumping.

Clad in Prada, the one-time model turned his inauguration from a staid event into a glamorous gala. Yet in the nearly five months since, she has only appeared at the omnipresent president's side at public events twice.

When the presidential couple went on vacation in New Hampshire in August, they were invited to lunch with the family of U.S. President George W. Bush - and Cecilia skipped out at the last minute.

The official explanation was a sore throat. But she was photographed the next day shopping, prompting a raft of questions from the French media that have remained unanswered.

"I don't want to talk about that anymore," Martin said Thursday.

After the Libya negotiations, reports emerged that Cecilia Sarkozy could tackle hostage negotiations in Colombia or visit troubled Myanmar next.

Sarkozy herself has remained quiet about her plans. In her only newspaper interview since Sarkozy's election, she said that she didn't want to "play the role of a first lady."

Cecilia Sarkozy was a top aide to her husband for much of her career, but wants no formal role in his presidency, Martin said.

The French president received a warm welcome on arrival in Sofia to accept the Stara Planina order. It was unclear what would happen with the medal meant for Cecilia.