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ANDY, FERGIE TO DIVORCE, TABLOID SAYS

The Duchess of York and Prince Andrew have agreed to divorce, The Daily Express reported Monday.

The duchess's father, however, wrote in a rival tabloid that his daughter Sarah would love to return to Andrew but feared the prince would not stand up for her against the "backbiting toadies" at the court of Queen Elizabeth II.Maj. Ronald Ferguson's book, which he has sold to the Daily Express' main rival, The Daily Mail, appeared likely to bring more bad publicity for the royal family.

Andrew and Sarah, both now 34, separated in March 1992, six years after their marriage. They have two children, Princess Beatrice, 6, and Princess Eugenie, 4.

In his book, Ferguson partly blamed hostile palace courtiers for the breakdown of his daughter's marriage to the queen's second son. But he also implied that Sarah had affairs with two Americans while still with Andrew.

Of the possibility of a reconciliation, Ferguson, a former polo manager to Prince Charles, wrote:

"My awful fear is that if it did happen, how long would she be able to stay on the straight and narrow?"

A Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said speculation about the couple getting divorced or reconciled was "inappropriate."

"They are now formally separated and continue to lead their own lives," the spokeswoman said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "They nonetheless remain the closest of friends and in the interests of their children spend as much time as possible together as a family."

The Daily Express quoted an unidentified courtier as saying lawyers had been told to finalize details of the divorce and an announcement was expected by Christmas. The newspaper said the duchess has agreed to give up the title Her Royal Highness as part of the deal.