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World Leaders Pay Final Tribute to France's Chirac

 

AFP

 

Dozens of world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, on Monday paid their final respects to France's ex-president Jacques Chirac as the country held a national day of mourning for its charismatic former head of state.
 
Putin and other world leaders joined President Emmanuel Macron for a funeral service at the Saint-Sulpice church in the French capital, a day after 7,000 people queued to view Chirac's coffin.
 
Chirac's death on Thursday aged 86 prompted a flood of tributes to a man whose high-profile political career spanned four decades, capped by 12 years as president from 1995 to 2007.
 
But it also sparked questions about how much the consummate political operator actually achieved during his long spell in office and again threw the spotlight on a 2011 conviction for graft over his time as Paris mayor.
 
Chirac's coffin, draped in a French flag, was carried into the church by his former bodyguards while onlookers applauded outside.
 
Other world leaders attending included Qatar Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, EU commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker and former US leader Bill Clinton.
 
The national day of mourning Monday will later see a minute of silence observed in all public institutions and schools.
 
The tributes will continue through Wednesday, when the France rugby team will don black armbands in a sign of mourning for Chirac during their World Cup clash with the United States in the Japanese city of Fukuoka.
 
- 'A true intellectual' -
 
After a private service for his family at the Invalides memorial complex, Chirac's coffin was driven under military escort through the streets of Paris to Saint-Sulpice.
 
Thousands of people had braved wet weather and hours of waiting Sunday to view Chirac's coffin at the Invalides military hospital and museum in Paris.
 
Perhaps the former French leader's most significant action on the international stage was his opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
 
On Sunday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sent belated condolences, saying he "worked tirelessly to uphold the values and ideals that we share with France."
 
Putin worked intensely with the Chirac in the first phase of his own presidency and the pair were notably united in their opposition to the invasion.
 
In unusually gushing comments in an interview with The Financial Times in June, Putin said Chirac was the modern world leader who had impressed him the most.
 
"He is a true intellectual, a real professor, a very level-headed man as well as very interesting," Putin said.
 
- 'Embodied France' -
 
Analysts have attributed the outpouring of emotion over the death of Chirac to the warmth of a politician who was more comfortable working the crowd at the annual Paris agricultural fair than giving speeches in the gilded surroundings of the Elysee Palace.
 
Isabelle Houdebert, a teacher from the Paris suburbs who stood in line Sunday to view Chirac's coffin, paid tribute to "his humanity, his simplicity, his cultured nature, his love of the good things in life and his statesmanship."
 
"There are no more of that calibre," she said.
 
Much of France's current political class also attended Monday's service including three other former French presidents: 93-year-old Valery Giscard d'Estaing, Chirac's former protege Nicolas Sarkozy and former Socialist president Francois Hollande.
 
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen pulled out after the Chirac family opposed her presence. 
 
The former president's widow Bernadette, who is said to be in frail health, attended a private service earlier but was not present at the main ceremony.
 
Chirac will be buried at Montparnasse cemetery in southern Paris, next to his daughter Laurence who died in 2016 aged 58 following a battle with anorexia.
 
As well as opposing the US-led invasion of Iraq, Chirac is remembered for having been the first French president to acknowledge the country's role in the deportation of Jews during World War II, and for warning of the risk of climate change before it rose high on the political agenda.
 
But many tributes focused not on policy achievements but the sheer charisma and genuine love for his country of a man whom Macron said Thursday "embodied a certain idea of France."
 
One of Chirac's most concrete legacies is the Quai Branly museum in Paris of indigenous art, which he founded and reflects his lifelong passion for Africa and Asia. To remember its founder, the museum is free to the public until October 11.
 
 

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