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Former France President Jacques Chirac dies

Two-term President took France into the euro

France's former President Jacques Chirac has died at the age of 86, it has been announced.

"President Jacques Chirac died this morning surrounded by his family, peacefully," his son-in-law told French news agency AFP.

The French National Assembly observed a minute's silence in his memory. Richard Ferrand, the Assembly's President, said: "Jacques Chirac is now part of the history of France. A France in his image: spirited, complex, sometimes crossed by contradictions, always animated by an untiring republican passion."

Jean-Claude Juncker, the outgoing president of the European Commission, 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.

Mr Chirac served two terms as the country's President from May 1995 to May 2007, and took France into the euro.

In July 1995, weeks after his election, he became the first President of France to acknowledge the the shameful role played by French authorities during the second World War. “France, land of the Enlightenment, human rights and asylum, committed the irreparable. She broke her word and delivered those under her protection to their executioners,” he said at the time.

After initially dismaying environmentalists by restarting nuclear weapons testing in the South Pacific in 1995, he became, a committed campaigner for the environment. Less than a year later he signed an anti-proliferation treaty. Then, at the Fourth Earth Summit in South Africa in 2002, he blasted indifferent attitudes towards climate change. "Our house is burning while we look elsewhere," he thundered.

Arguably his finest moment came on the international stage, when, in 2003, he opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq. “War is always a last resort. It is always proof of failure. It is always the worst of solutions, because it brings death and misery,” he said a matter of days before the US-led forces invaded Iraq.

His popularity in France soared over his refusal to support the war.

Domestically, his Presidency was mixed. Among his major domestic political reforms was a reduction of the presidential term of office from seven to five years, and the abolition of compulsory military service. His common agricultural policy payments agreement with Germany, was widely welcomed in France.

And his efforts to improve road safety has been calculated to have saved 8,500 lives in four years.

But his bid to reform France's complicated pension system led to massive demonstrations, while a snap general election in 1997 went badly awry. Instead of boosting his position, the election was won by the opposition socialist party, forcing him to share power.

A former eurosceptic, he took France into the euro and became a leading voice for greater political integration.

He was swept to power for his second term in 2002, with 82% of the vote, as the electorate balked at the prospect of the far-right Jean-Marie Le Pen - who had shocked the country by making it to the second round of voting.

In 2005, he suffered a stroke while still in office. It led to a gradual deterioration in his health - and in 2014, his wife Bernadette said he would no longer speak in public, due to problems with his memory. His final official public appearance - to warm applause - came in November that year.

Throughout his presidency, he was dogged by sleaze scandals from his days as Paris mayor. He had immunity from prosecution during his term as president, but when he left office he became the first former president convicted of a crime.

In 2011, aged 79, he was handed a two-year suspended prison sentence after being found guilty of diverting public funds to illegally finance his political party.

Prior to becoming President, Mr Chirac previously served twice as Prime Minister: from 1974 to 1976 - when he became the first politician to quit the post, claiming he did not have the 'tools to do' his job, and again from 1986 to 1988. He had also been Mayor of Paris from 1977 to 1995.

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