Ex-French President Chirac dies at 86

Ex-French President Chirac dies at 86

PARIS- The Associated Press
Ex-French President Chirac dies at 86

Jacques Chirac, a two-term French president who was the first leader to acknowledge France's role in the Holocaust and who defiantly opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, died on Sept. 26 at 86.

President Emmanuel Macron paid tribute in a nationally televised speech to a predecessor he said incarnated an "independent and proud" country and called Chirac "a statesman we loved as much as he loved us."

"We are remembering tonight with emotion and affection his freedom, his personality, the talent he had to reconcile simplicity and grandeur, proximity and dignity, love of the motherland and openness to the universal," Macron said.

The Eiffel Tower went dark in the former head of state's honor Thursday night, and a national day of mourning will be observed Monday. Scores of people lined up to enter the Elysee presidential palace so they could sign condolence books.

World leaders were effusive in their praise for the man who led France for 12 years.

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

Police set up barricades around his Paris residence, as French people, and politicians of all stripes, looked past Chirac's flaws to share grief and fond memories of his presidency and his decades in politics.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said condolences books would be opened in the capital's official buildings and a giant screen showing photos of Chirac installed in front of the city hall.

Chirac was long the standard-bearer of France's conservative right and mayor of Paris for nearly two decades. As president from 1995-2007, he was a consummate global diplomat but failed to reform the French 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 the actions of the French nation at the time.

"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 politically humiliated by the defeat.

At home, a host of scandals dogged Chirac, including allegations of the misuse of funds and of kickbacks during his time as Paris mayor.

He was formally charged in 2007 after he left office as president, losing immunity from prosecution. In 2011, he was found guilty of misuse of public money, breach of trust and illegal conflict of interest and given a two-year suspended jail sentence. He did not attend the trial. His lawyers said he was suffering severe memory lapses, possibly related to a stroke.

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.

Condolences on Thursday poured in from French citizens, including political rivals, and international leaders.