World leaders gather to pay final respects to charismatic and popular former president
World leaders have joined mourners in Paris to pay their final respects to the former French president Jacques Chirac.
A series of private and national ceremonies were being held during a national day of mourning for the charismatic and popular former leader, who died last Thursday aged 86.
After a mass attended by about 200 family and friends at the Hôtel des Invalides, the current president, Emmanuel Macron, led a military tribute.
Chirac’s coffin was then driven to the Church of Saint-Sulpice, where pianist Daniel Barenboim played a Schubert impromptu at a memorial service attended by dozens of French politicians and foreign officials.
A private family church service for Chirac was celebrated prior to the military tribute and a private funeral was due to take place later on Monday at the Montparnasse cemetery in the south of the capital.
Macron entered Les Invalides at 10.45am to review French troops as the Marseillaise was played. To a solemn drumbeat, Chirac’s coffin, draped in a tricolour, was brought into the cour d’honneur and placed on the ground.
The atmosphere was sombre and silent. Several military veterans present could be seen wiping their eyes as the funeral march was played.After a minute’s silence, Macron followed the coffin out of Les Invalides.
The death of Chirac, who was president of France from 1995 to 2007, prompted a flood of tributes to a man whose political career spanned more than four decades and who was seen as one of France’s last great statespeople.
The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, was among 30 world leaders who flew to Paris to attend the funeral. The Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, and the German president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, also attended, as as did former leaders who worked with Chirac, including Jean-Claude Juncker, the head of the European commission, and the former US president Bill Clinton.
French politicians turned out en masse, including three former presidents – 93-year-old Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, Chirac’s successor, Nicolas Sarkozy, and the former Socialist president François Hollande.
Before the military ceremony, Chirac’s widow, Bernadette, 86, attended a private mass at the Saint-Louis-des-Invalides cathedral. The couple were married for 63 years and had two daughters, Laurence, who died in 2016, and Claude.
Chirac will be buried next to his elder daughter, who had anorexia for most of her adult life and died at the age of 58.
Chirac’s only grandchild, Martin Chirac-Rey, 23, addressed about 200 family and friends after the private service.
Although Chirac has been accused of achieving little during his 12 years in the Elysée and was later convicted for his role in a “fake jobs” scandal during his time as mayor of Paris between 1977 and 1995, a poll by the Journal du Dimanche newspaper showed the French consider him their best president of the modern era, alongside the country’s postwar leader, Charles de Gaulle.
His two main achievements were being the first French leader to publicly recognise France’s role in the deportation of Jews during the Nazi occupation of the country during the second world war, and opposing the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.
Chirac was also known for his bonhomie and reputation as a bon vivant, with a gargantuan appetite for traditional food washed down with a few beers.
The Hôtel des Invalides is, as its name suggests, a former military hospital and retirement home for veterans. It is the site of museums and monuments to France’s military history and contains the tombs of its war heroes, including the former emperor Napoléon Bonaparte.
On Sunday, thousands of people turned up at Les Invalides, where Chirac’s coffin lay in state, to pay their respects. Many left flowers and apples, his favourite fruit.
The tributes will continue during the week, when the French team don black armbands for their Rugby World Cup match with the US in the Japanese city of Fukuoka.
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