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France pays tribute to former president Jacques Chirac

France’s National Assembly and Senate stood in silence on Thursday to mark the death of former president Jacques Chirac.

Chirac, who ruled France from 1995 to 2007, “is now part of France’s history,” National Assembly president Richard Ferrand said in an official statement.

The conservative Chirac was best known abroad for his staunch opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

At home, perhaps his greatest legacy was his acknowledgement, for the first time, of the French state’s role in the wartime round-up and arrest of Jewish people to Nazi death camps.

But he also knew many political setbacks, including the 2005 rejection by French voters of a proposed constitution for the EU.

Later the same year, he suffered a minor stroke, and in the closing months of the year the country saw severe rioting by frustrated youths from minority backgrounds.

In 2011, he received a two-year suspended sentence over allegations that, as mayor of Paris in the 1990s, he put party members on the city payroll without them actually working.

Tributes to the former president came from left and right, with Ferrand also recalling his commitment to arts and the environment.

“Personally, I cannot forget the last message he addressed to us when he left power, in which he exhorted the French people never to compromise with extremism, racism, anti-
Semitism, or the rejection of others,” Ferrand wrote.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner spoke of “the strong emotion that touches, at this moment, the French people.”

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was “devastated” to hear of the death of Chirac, whom he counted as a great friend, a spokeswoman said.

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The leader of the EU executive has “no words to express his grief,” according to commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva.

Chirac, who suffered from severe memory problems, had disappeared from public life in recent years. His wife Bernadette, who survives him, has also faded from public view.


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