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France turns the page as the Chirac chapter closes

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France turns the page as the Chirac chapter closes


It took three attempts before the man some call “The Bulldozer” finally became the French President in 1995. It was the crowning moment of a career which had seen Jacques Chirac serve as Prime Minister twice and spend 17 years in the influential position of Mayor of Paris.

But the dream was short-lived. Parliament was dissolved and Chirac spent five years in uneasy co-habitation with the Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin.

Many also remember Chirac as the man chosen over the far-right Jean Marie Le Pen in the election in 2002. Le Pen had made it through to the second round of voting, an astonishing development which shook France to its foundations and galvanised many to vote for his centre-right rival.

Riding on a high, Chirac stood up to US President George W. Bush in 2003 and refused to take part in the war in Iraq, winning plaudits from the Arab world.

But 2005 proved to be his annus horribilis. France’s problems of integration were laid bare by weeks of rioting on deprived ‘sink’ estates.

Shortly before 55 percent of French voters had rejected the new European Constitution, a huge embarrassment for the now pro-europe President.

Intelligent and charming, Chirac has been a success in terms of longevity. But it remains to be seen if history judges him as kindly when other criteria are employed.

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