France Starts Paying Final Respects to Late Former President Jacques Chirac
Chirac is now deemed the best President of France, alongside Charles de Gaulles, according to a public opinion poll.
France began on Sunday to pay its last respects to its former President Jacques Chirac, who passed away earlier this week at the age of 86.
Jacques Chirac was President of the Republic of France for two terms, from 1995 until 2007, having served before that as Prime Minister, Mayor of Paris, and Cabinet Minister in several different portfolios. He had been part of French public life since the 1960s.
On Sunday, Chirac’s coffin was placed in the Saint-Louis-des-Invalides cathedral at the Invalides memorial complex in downtown Paris for the French public to pay their last respects, AFP and France24 reported.
The final farewell began with a multi-faith prayer around the coffin with close family, including his daughter Claude. His wife of six decades Bernadette, 86, was not present. After that, members of the public were allowed to view the coffin.
“[Chirac] embodied a certain idea of France,” current French President Emmanuel Macron said in a speech on the passing of one of his most notable predecessors, in line with the general image of Chirac focusing on his personal charisma and dedication to France, first and foremost.
Jacques Chirac’s legacy as President of France includes the stanch opposition to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, the reduction of the French presidential term from 7 to 5 years through a referendum in 2000, early warnings about the risks of climate change, acknowledging France’s role in the deportation of Jews to Holocaust death camps during World War II, a major reduction of road accident deaths, among others.
Chirac’s political record remains mixed, however, as he had very low public approval ratings during his second term, and in 2011 was given a two-year suspended prison sentence by a French court for abuse of public funds while serving as Mayor of Paris.
More than 5,000 people wrote in a book of condolences from Thursday until Saturday at the Elysee Palace after the passing of Jacques Chirac.
At 9 am on Monday, Chirac’s coffin is to leave the Invalides to be transported under a military escort to the Saint-Sulpice church for a final memorial service. Monday has been declared a national day of mourning in France.
In addition to French President Emmanuel Macron, Chirac’s final memorial is expected to be attended by some 30 heads of state and government, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and by former leaders who worked closely with Chirac, notably including German ex-chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.
Chirac’s successors, former French Presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande, will attend, and so will one of his predecessors, the third president of France’s modern fifth republic, Valery Giscard d’Estaing, 93, who has now outlived his successor Francois Mitterrand (who passed away in 1996) as well as Chirac.
In the final act, Chirac will be buried at the Montparnasse cemetery in southern Paris, next to his daughter Laurence who died in 2016 aged 58 following a battle with anorexia.
According to an Ifop survey published in Le Journal du Dimanche, based on interviews with 1,015 people, 30% of the French now see Chirac as their best president, the same rating as that of the legendary Charles de Gaulle.
(Banner image: TV grab from France24)