Chirac Will be Remembered for his Politics, Women and Anti-US Stand on Iraq

Published September 26th, 2019 - 11:37 GMT
Former French President Jacques Chirac (AFP)
Former French President Jacques Chirac (AFP)
Chirac was 'bitten badly' after the animal went for him 'for no apparent reason', the former President's wife recalled.  

Former French President Jacques Chirac has died at the age of 86.  

Chirac, who had suffered a series of health problems in recent years, died this morning 'surrounded by his family', his son-in-law Frederic Salat-Baroux said today. 

In Paris today a minute's silence was held in the National Assembly when the former President's death was announced.  

In a long career which began under Charles de Gaulle, Chirac was twice Prime Minister of France before serving as head of state from 1995 to 2007. 

During his term his opposition to the Iraq War put him at loggerheads with George W. Bush and Tony Blair. 

He also had a reputation as a womaniser, philanderer and bon vivant who repeatedly cheated on his long-suffering wife Bernadette. 

After leaving office, Chirac was found guilty of corruption dating back to his time as mayor of Paris and given a two-year suspended prison sentence.  

Chirac was a former chain smoker and openly enjoyed the luxuries of power during his long career. 

His health had started to decline in office, suffering a mysterious blood vessel problem in 2005 that proved to be a stroke. He had a pacemaker fitted in 2008. 

In a bizarre episode in 2009, he was taken to hospital after he was savaged by his own dog which was being treated with anti-depressants. 

Chirac was 'bitten badly' after the animal went for him 'for no apparent reason', the former President's wife recalled.  

He was excused from attending his 2011 trial on health grounds after medics said he was suffering from neurological problems which affected his memory.  

Chirac was found guilty of channelling public money into phantom jobs for political cronies when he was mayor of Paris, but was not sent to prison.  

He had also been admitted to the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris for a pulmonary infection on three occasions after leaving office. 

In his last years he became visibly weak and walked with a cane at a November 2014 award ceremony of his foundation, which supports peace projects. 

Born in 1932, Chirac married Bernadette in 1956 and they remained married for the rest of his life despite his serial philandering. They had two children. 

Tall and dapper, Chirac's charming style would work wonders on the campaign trail, exuding warmth when kissing babies and enjoying Western movies and beer.  

His office staff nicknamed him 'Mr Three Minutes, shower included', according to a book published by his chauffeur. 

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As mayor of Paris in the 1980s, he reputedly ordered the council to buy a coach fitted out with a bedroom so he could meet his lovers whilst on official engagements. 

In 1997, he could not be reached for several hours to be told that Diana, Princess of Wales had been involved in what proved to be a fatal a car crash in Paris. 

It was later rumoured that he had been sleeping with Claudia Cardinale, the Italian actress and sex symbol. 

More recently a book claimed Chirac had an affair with political correspondent Jacqueline Chabrido which was hurriedly stopped by members of Chirac's party who worried it would affect his career. 

Cries of shock rang out in the National Assembly as the legislature's president Richard Ferrand announced the news that Chirac had died today. 

Ferrand asked the lawmakers, 'I ask you to observe in his memory a minute of silence.' 

Paying tribute today, European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker hailed Chirac as a 'great statesman'. 

'His legacy for France and the European Union will stay with us forever,' Juncker said.   

Former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said: 'When we discussed tough issues, his humor always brought a sense of relief.

'But it is especially his attachment to the European project that turned him into the real statesman that we will miss.'  

As a young man, Chirac had joined the French Communist Party and called for the abolition of nuclear weapons, but he quickly drifted to the right. 

Chirac's career in national politics began in the 1960s when he worked under President and former Resistance hero Charles de Gaulle. 

He was nicknamed 'Le Bulldozer' early in his career for his determination and ambition. His changing political views also earned him nicknames such as Chameleon Bonaparte and the Weathervane. 

In 1974 he became Prime Minister - a subordinate position in France - under President Valery Giscard d'Estaing. 

After leaving that post he became mayor of Paris in 1977, a position he held for 18 years. 

Long the standard-bearer of the French right, he returned as Prime Minister in 1986 in an uncomfortable arrangement with President Francois Mitterrand of the opposing Socialist Party, serving until 1988. 

After unsuccessful runs for the presidency in 1981 and 1988, he was finally elected head of state in 1995. 

In what was perhaps his finest hour, he acknowledged France's role in deporting Jews to extermination camps during the Nazi occupation in World War II. 

'Yes, the criminal folly of the occupiers was seconded by the French, by the French state,' he declared, rejecting the myth of his nation's innocence.  

More controversially, he restarted French nuclear tests in 1995, the first since the end of the Cold War, earning a rebuke from Bill Clinton. 

The tests in French Polynesia remain a sensitive issue with Paris forced to pay out compensation to residents who suffered from the tests.  

Chirac ended compulsory military service and started moves that reintegrated France into the NATO defence alliance, reversing a policy set in the 1960s. 

His presidency was derailed when he unnecessarily called a parliamentary election in 1997, then lost it, forcing him to share power with the Socialists again. 

In 2002 he had an easy ride to a second term when far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen unexpectedly reached the final round.  

In a rare show of unity, the moderate right and the left united behind Chirac, and he crushed Le Pen with 82 per cent of the vote in the runoff.  

His outspoken opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 rocked France's relations with Washington and weakened the Atlantic alliance. 

At home his authority was badly weakened by France's 'No' vote in a European Constitution referendum in 2005, angering the pro-EU Chirac. 

'If you want to shoot yourself in the foot, do it, but after don't complain,' he raged at his own electorate.  

Despite promising to heal the 'social fracture', he failed to defuse tensions between police and minority youths that exploded into riots across France in 2005. 

After the presidential term was shortened from seven years to five, he left office in 2007, replaced by Nicolas Sarkozy. 

In 2012 one of his aides claimed he was planning to vote for Sarkozy's challenger Francois Hollande in that year's election.  

This article has been adapted from its original source.

© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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