SAINT-PETERSBURG: As news of President Vladimir Putin’s divorce sent shock waves acrossRussia, his native city ofSaint Petersburgsplit between sympathy with his decision to go public and criticism of what some called his unpresidential behaviour.

Putin and his wife Lyudmila appeared on television late Thursday and gave an interview saying their marriage was over and they now lead separate lives.

This confirmed rumours the couple had separated, but it came as a huge surprise to many that the couple would announce the split officially.

Some residents ofSaint Petersburg, known asLeningradwhen Putin was brought up there, were supportive, saying he was entitled to make mistakes and was right to reveal the truth.

“I don’t judge them. It happens. Everyone has the right to a personal life, even if you are president,” said Galina Titova, 60.

“It’s good that he announced his divorce. It’s brave and it’s human,” said driver Sergei Petrov, 43.

His wife Irina added jokingly: “When I learnt the news this morning, I told my husband: ‘See even Putin has divorced. Maybe we should too?’”

She praised Putin as “a real man”.

But others inSaint Petersburg- where Putin, now 60, met Lyudmila Shkrebneva, now 55 - judged him more harshly, bringing up rumours of extra-marital affairs.–AFP