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Key moments in life of ex-French president Jacques Chirac

Despite a corruption conviction and political scandals, his fellow French citizens have fond memories of a man who excelled in the art of seduction.

Jacques Chirac (Philippe Wojazer, pool via AP)
Jacques Chirac (Philippe Wojazer, pool via AP)

By Samuel Petrequin, Associated Press

A man of imposing stature, with a broad smile and easy laugh, Jacques Chirac was the president of charisma and charm.

Despite a corruption conviction and political scandals, and his failed attempts to tackle unemployment and implement in-depth reforms, his fellow French citizens have fond memories of a man who excelled in the art of seduction.

After his difficult 12-year stint as president of France, his image as a “man of the people” – he used to drink beer instead of wine – coupled with his ability to shine on the international stage, eclipsed his political legacy, endearing him to a wide circle of admirers even outside his political family.

Here is a look at some defining moments of Mr Chirac’s career.

– No to war

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George W Bush with Jacques Chirac at the Elysee Palace in Paris (Charles Dharapak/AP)

Mr Chirac’s popularity went through the roof after France opposed US president George W Bush’s military action in Iraq in 2003.

For millions of French, Mr Chirac’s “No to war” embodied the country’s idea of independence. It also reminded them of General Charles de Gaulle’s attempts to challenge US hegemony.

Mr Chirac insisted the action in Iraq was illegal and threatened to veto a UN Security Council resolution that would have authorised the invasion.

His strong stance did not prevent the war, and damaged diplomatic ties with the US, but it helped Mr Chirac’s approval at home and among others who opposed the invasion.

The war “was a mistake because it carried important and negative psychological consequences in the Arab world”, Mr Chirac said later. “And it was unjustified because the reasons given – the presence of pseudo dangerous weaponry in this part of the world – were obviously baseless.”

No weapons were found, and Iraq later faced the rise of so-called Islamic State.

– 2002 election

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Jacques Chirac in the garden of the Elysee Palace in Paris in 1996 (Francois Mori/AP)

Seeking a second presidential mandate in 2002, Mr Chirac looked doomed to defeat after being involved in several political scandals.

He was facing his old Socialist foe Lionel Jospin, whom he defeated in 1995, but in a shock result the two people to make it to the second round were Mr Chirac and far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, a pariah in mainstream politics.

With Mr Jospin out of the race, Mr Le Pen’s presence in the second round was described as a “political earthquake” because of his extreme anti-immigration stance and convictions for anti-Semitism. In a rare show of unity between left and right, tens of thousands of demonstrators marched through Paris against Mr Le Pen.

Voters threw massive support to Mr Chirac, who was re-elected in a landslide victory, with 82% of the vote.

– Smells and noises

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Copies of Jacques Chirac’s memoir (Michel Euler/AP)

Although he never sealed alliances with the far-right National Front party, Mr Chirac more than once flirted with its anti-immigration ideas to entice voters.

In 1991, four years before he became French president, Mr Chirac’s good-natured image took a dent when he made an infamous speech targeting immigrants at a political rally.

Particularly ill-inspired that day, Mr Chirac spoke in favour of a ban on family reunification, taking sides with “the French worker” living next door to families of foreigners he said lived on welfare money in less well-off neighbourhoods.

“Add to that the noise and the smell, well, the French worker, he goes crazy…. And it is not being racist to say this,” Mr Chirac declared.

– Acknowledging France’s role in the Holocaust

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Jacques Chirac poses with residents during a visit to Amiens, northern France, in 1996 (Michel Spingler/AP)

Only a few months after taking office, Mr Chirac became the first French president to admit the nation’s involvement, via the collaborationist Vichy regime, in the deportations of Jews to Nazi death camps during the Second World War.

France had for years after the war contended that Marshall Philippe Petain’s Vichy regime did not represent France.

Speaking on the 53rd anniversary of the July 16 1942 roundup of 13,000 Jews – the biggest in the war years – Mr Chirac said France “delivered its dependants to their executioners”.

– The house is burning

Mr Chirac repeatedly warned about the danger of climate change during his tenure.

In 2007, after a UN report said that humans were likely responsible for global warming, Mr Chirac pleaded for a “revolution of political action”.

Although he failed to implement his good intentions into groundbreaking policies, Mr Chirac further raised awareness of the need for sustainable development at the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit with a spirited speech.

“Our house is burning down and we’re blind to it. Nature, mutilated and overexploited, can no longer regenerate and we refuse to admit it …” he said.

“It is suffering from poor development, in both the north and the south, and we stand indifferent. The earth and humankind are in danger … We cannot say that we did not know. Let us make sure that the 21st century does not become, for future generations, the century of humanity’s crime against life itself.”

PA

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