Former French President Jacques Chirac dies

Jacques Chirac, the former French president who championed the European Union, but whose later years were blighted by corruption scandals, has died aged 86.

“President Jacques Chirac died this morning surrounded by his family, peacefully,” his son-in-law told AFP.

Chirac served two terms as president and twice as Prime Minister (PM), and took France into the single European currency.

The French National Assembly observed a minute’s silence in his memory.

A towering figure in French politics for five decades, Chirac will be remembered for his opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, his pragmatic statesmanship and his advocacy of the European Union.

French President Emmanuel Macron was expected to speak on television at 20:00 local time (18:00 GMT) to pay tribute to his late predecessor.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission and former Luxembourg prime minister, said he was “moved and devastated” to learn the news.

“Europe is not only losing a great statesman, but the president is losing a great friend,” he said in a statement.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was “very sad” to hear about the death of Chirac, who she described as an “outstanding partner and friend”.

Former French President François Hollande also paid homage to Chirac: “I know that today, the French people, whatever their convictions, have just lost a friend,” he said in a statement.

Another former French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, said on learning the news: “A part of my life has disappeared today”, adding that Chirac “embodied a France faithful to its universal values”.

A known admirer of Chirac, Russian President Vladimir Putin, praised the “wise and far-sighted statesman” for his “intellect and huge knowledge”.

British prime ministers past and present were among those to pay their respect, with John Major and Boris Johnson both hailing his political prowess.

French television stations are playing wall-to-wall tributes, and it is moving to be taken back once again to that long epoch in French history when Jacques Chirac was at the centre of it all.

There he is as a chisel-chinned prime minister in the 1970s; later in a flared three-piece suit, announcing the creation of his Gaullist party; then as president upbraiding Israeli soldiers in Jerusalem; or glad-handing at the annual farm show in Paris. -BBC

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