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Jacques Chirac: Tributes pour in for former French president

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A man signs the book of condolences in front of Paris city hall to pay tribute to late former French President Jacques Chirac in Paris, France, September 26, 2019.
A man signs the book of condolences in front of Paris city hall to pay tribute to late former French President Jacques Chirac in Paris, France, September 26, 2019. -
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REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
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Tributes poured in Thursday for former French president Jacques Chirac, who died at the age of 86.

"We've lost a statesman that we loved as much as he loved us," said French President Emmanuel Macron in a televised address that paid tribute to Chirac.

"Jacques Chirac was a great Frenchman [...] He carried a love for France all his life."

Macron praised Chirac in personal terms and sent condolences to his family and friends "that stood by his side all this time."

The French president also announced that Elysee would stay open on Thursday for everyone who wished to pay tribute to the late president and announced a day of mourning on Monday.

Chirac served as president for 12 years (1995-2007), was two times prime minister, and three times elected mayor of Paris.

His two mandates will be remembered by his firm stance against former U.S. President George Bush's Iraq war, the end of conscription, the recognition of France's responsibility for Nazi crimes under the Vichy regime, the transition to the five-year term, and his famous quote "our house is burning" in relation to climate change.

Reactions to Chirac's death

"I spent long hours with Chirac in the European Council. We talked about difficult briefs and his sense of humour was always a source of respite. But it was mostly his attachment to the European project and the fact that he was a true statesman that we will miss".

"I salute the memory of Jacques Chirac, a president that will have marked our country by his political action on half a century and who valiantly defended France's independence."

"Today Paris is in mourning. I am deeply moved and saddened to learn that President Chirac has passed away. An extraordinary statesman, an immense humanist figure, he has left his mark on the history of our country."

"It is with infinite sadness that I learned of the death of our former president Jacques Chirac. A man of heart, close to people, modern in his style, ideas and actions. His family was France."

What is Chirac's background?

Born in 1932 in Paris as the only child of a successful middle-class family, Chirac would grow up to become a member of France's Communist Party, for a time, before his higher studies in politics and interior affairs would take him the other way.

In 1956 he married Bernadette Chodron de Courcel, a member of the Parisian high bourgeoisie. After volunteering to fight in the Algeria war, inspired by former French President Charles de Gaulle, Chirac's political career began, winning a parliament seat as representative for his home region of southwestern Correze.

How did his political career begin?

His political mentor President Georges Pompidou made him Minister of Agriculture in 1972, after handling of several other briefs.

He was then appointed Minister of the Interior in February 1974.

After Pompidou's sudden death on 2 April 1974, his successor Valery Giscard d'Estaing entrusted Chirac with the office of Prime Minister in May 1974.

Two years later, he resigned, over a disagreement with the president over his authority, and developed his political base among France's various conservative parties.

After his departure from the cabinet, Chirac was voted Mayor of Paris in 1977. His 18 uninterrupted years in that position prepared him to run for president.

In the struggle for the right-wing leadership. Chirac established the Rally for the Republic party to compete in the 1981 elections against Giscard d'Estaing but was eliminated in the first round. Ultimately, the victory was handed to socialist candidate Francois Mitterrand.

He did, however, become prime minister in Mitterrand's government, in 1986, and worked together for two years.

This power-sharing arrangement was unprecedented; while Chirac managed domestic affairs, Mitterrand held sway over defence and foreign affairs. The socialist president won a second term as president in 1988.

First presidency

When finally elected to the presidency in 1995, Chirac vowed to reduce the gap between rich and poor. He also resumed French nuclear weapon testing in the Pacific amid international protest.

At home, Chirac introduced austerity measures to take France into the euro, which triggered major strikes in the winter of 1995-96.

In 1997 he dissolved parliament, aiming to consolidate the conservatives' hold on the country, but the socialists triumphed in elections instead, and Chirac was forced to share power with Lionel Jospin who was elected prime minister for five years.

Chirac was re-elected in 2002 after Jospin failed to do well enough, which led voters to choose between either Chirac or the far-right candidate Jean-Marie le Pen in the second round.

In the first round, Chirac's unpopularity stood out, but he managed to defeat Le Pen. He later gained in the popularity polls due to his strong opposition to George W. Bush's push for war against Iraq.

Loss of popularity

A serious setback came with the referendum result in 2005 against France ratifying the proposed treaty for a European Union Constitution.

Additionally in 2005, the accidental death of two youths fleeing police in a poor Paris suburb triggered violent clashes, which Chirac declared a state of emergency.

He also suffered a minor stroke in that year.

In 2007, as expected, Chirac said he wouldn't seek a third presidential term. He didn't endorse any of the candidates, but Nicolas Sarkozy would take his place.

Post-presidency corruption scandals

As president, he enjoyed immunity from prosecution over corruption allegations during his time as mayor of Paris.

He went on trial in 2011, accused of paying salaries for non-existent jobs. Found guilty, he was given a prison term — a first for a former French President — but it was later suspended.

Chirac set up a sustainable development and cultural dialogue foundation in 2008, and then successfully published his memoirs.

Chirac last appeared in public on November 2014, at his foundation's prize-giving ceremony at the musée Branly, in Paris, also attended by socialist President François Hollande, in his honour.

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