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World leaders pay final tribute to France's Chirac

France held a national day of mourning on Monday for former head of state Jacques Chirac following his death on Thursday last week.

The coffin of the late French president Jacques Chirac is carried from the Saint Sulpice Church in the French capital Paris to a waiting hearse following his funeral service on 30 September 2019. Picture: AFP

PARIS - Dozens of world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, on Monday paid their final respects to ex-president Jacques Chirac as France held a national day of mourning for the popular former head of state.

Putin and other world leaders joined President Emmanuel Macron for a funeral service at Saint-Sulpice church in Paris, a day after 7,000 people queued to view Chirac's coffin at the Invalides monument.

Chirac's death on Thursday, aged 86, prompted a flood of tributes to the centre-right politician whose career spanned four decades, capped by 12 years as president from 1995 to 2007.

But it also sparked questions about how much the consummate political operator actually achieved and again threw the spotlight on a 2011 conviction for graft over his time as Paris mayor.

His coffin, draped in a French flag, was carried into the church by his former bodyguards, to applause from around 1,000 onlookers lining the square outside.

Other world leaders attending included Qatar Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier as well as former US president Bill Clinton.

A minute of silence was to be observed in all public institutions and schools on Monday afternoon.

Florien, a 26-year-old ambulance driver, rose before dawn in a town 1.5 hours from Paris to travel to the capital to pay tribute to the late president, who also served two stints as prime minister.

"He was close to ordinary people," Florien told AFP.

FAMILY 'OVERWHELMED'

After a private family service attended by Chirac's 86-year-old widow Bernadette, followed by a military ceremony presided by Macron, the coffin was driven from Invalides under military escort through the streets of Paris to Saint-Sulpice.

Paris archbishop Michel Aupetit eulogised Chirac as a "warm man" with "a real love of people".

After the hour-long service the coffin was taken to Montparnasse cemetery in southern Paris, to be buried next to Chirac's eldest daughter Laurence who died in 2016 aged 58 from anorexia.

On Sunday, his youngest daughter Claude turned out to greet some of the thousands of people who queued for hours in the rain to view her father lying in state at Invalides.

The affable ex-leader would have been "extremely moved and happy", she said, describing herself as "overwhelmed".

'TRUE INTELLECTUAL'

Analysts have attributed the outpouring of emotion over the death to the warmth of a politician who was more comfortable working the crowd at the annual Paris agricultural fair than giving speeches in the gilded surroundings of the Elysee Palace.

"France is always paradoxal: it wants kings and then cuts off their head, it forces out the living and consecrates the dead," Socialist ex-president Francois Hollande told France Inter radio on Monday.

One of Chirac's most significant steps on the international stage was his opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

On Sunday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sent belated condolences, saying Chirac "worked tirelessly to uphold the values and ideals that we share with France."

Putin worked intensely with the Chirac in the first phase of his own presidency and the pair were notably united in their opposition to the Iraq invasion.

In unusually gushing comments in an interview with The Financial Times in June, Putin said Chirac was the modern world leader who had impressed him the most.

"He is a true intellectual, a real professor, a very level-headed man as well as very interesting," Putin said.

PERSONALITY TRUMPED POLICY

Much of France's current political class attended Monday's service including three other former French presidents: 93-year-old Valery Giscard d'Estaing, Chirac's former protege Nicolas Sarkozy and Hollande.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen pulled out after the Chirac family opposed her presence and left-wing firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon also ducked out of the service.

Chirac is also remembered for having been the first French president to acknowledge the country's role in the deportation of Jews during World War II, and for warning of the risk of climate change before it rose high on the political agenda.

But the latter years of his presidency were also characterised by political and economic stagnation.

"One cannot say that he really transformed France. It's his personality that made him popular," political historian Jean Garrigues told AFP.

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