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Prince Andrew and his wife, Sarah, are discussing her wish for a formal separation, Buckingham Palace said Thursday, confirming intensive news media speculation that the marriage was on the rocks.

The terse announcement came six years to the day after the queen's second son announced his engagement to the former Sarah Ferguson."Last week lawyers acting for the Duchess of York initiated discussions about a formal separation between the duke and duchess," the palace statement said.

"These discussions are not yet complete, and nothing more will be said until they are.

"The queen hopes that the media will spare the Duke and Duchess of York and their children any intrusion."

The announcement followed two days of news reports on troubles in the marriage. Reporters and photographers besieged the couple's home at Sunninghill Park, 20 miles west of London.

British Broadcasting Corp. reported that palace officials were accusing the Duchess of York - popularly known as "Fergie" - of feeding media coverage of the split.

"I can only say that the knives are out for Fergie at the palace," said Paul Reynolds, the BBC correspondent at the palace.

Andrew, fourth in line to the throne, and Sarah, both 32, were married on July 23, 1986. They have two daughters, Princess Beatrice, 3, and Princess Eugenie, 2.

The duchess and her daughters left home at lunch time with what appeared to be luggage, according to Press Association, Britain's national news agency.

Sarah was the most flamboyant, and recently the most criticized, member of the royal family. Tabloid newspapers chided her for her taste in clothes, her weight, her dieting, her palatial new home and her frequent vacations.

Newspapers suggested that she was fed up with the constant attention and rebelled at the restraints of life in the gilded cage of the House of Windsor.

"She wasn't born to be stuffy. She was born to have fun," the Daily Telegraph said.