Former French President Chirac passes away at 86

Published: Sep 26, 2019, 16:30 IST | AFP | Paris

Chirac was long the standard-bearer of France's conservative right, and mayor of Paris for nearly two decades

A file photo of former French President Jacques Chirac. Pic/AFP
A file photo of former French President Jacques Chirac. Pic/AFP

Paris: Jacques Chirac, a two-term French president who was the first leader to acknowledge France's role in the Holocaust and defiantly opposed the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, died Thursday at age 86.

His son-in-law Frederic Salat-Baroux told The Associated Press that Chirac died "peacefully, among his loved ones." He did not give a cause of death, though Chirac had had repeated health problems since leaving office in 2007.

Chirac was long the standard-bearer of France's conservative right, and mayor of Paris for nearly two decades. He was nicknamed "Le Bulldozer" early in his career for his determination and ambition. As president from 1995-2007 he was a consummate global diplomat but failed to reform the economy or defuse tensions between police and minority youths that exploded into riots across France in 2005.

Yet Chirac showed courage and statesmanship during his presidency.

In what may have been his finest hour, France's last leader with memories of World War II crushed the myth of his nation's innocence in the persecution of Jews and their deportation during the Holocaust when he acknowledged France's part.

"Yes, the criminal folly of the occupiers was seconded by the French, by the French state," he said on July 16, 1995. "France, the land of the Enlightenment and human rights ... delivered those it protects to their executioners." With words less grand, the man who embraced European unity ¿ once calling it an "art" ¿ raged at the French ahead of their "no" vote in a 2005 referendum on the European constitution meant to fortify the EU.

"If you want to shoot yourself in the foot, do it, but after don't complain," he said. "It's stupid, I'm telling you." He was personally and politically humiliated by the defeat.

His popularity didn't fully recover until after he left office in 2007, handing power to protege-turned-rival Nicolas Sarkozy.

Chirac ultimately became one of the French's favorite political figures, often praised for his down-to-earth human touch rather than his political achievements.

In his 40 years in public life, Chirac was derided by critics as opportunistic and impulsive.

But as president, he embodied the fierce independence so treasured in France: He championed the United Nations and multipolarism as a counterweight to U.S. global dominance, and defended agricultural subsidies over protests by the European Union.

Chirac was also remembered for another trait valued by the French: style.

Tall, dapper and charming, Chirac was a well-bred bon vivant who openly enjoyed the trappings of power: luxury trips abroad and life in a government-owned palace. His slicked-back hair and ski-slope nose were favorites of political cartoonists.

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