World leaders set for final tribute to France’s Chirac

PARIS (AFP) – Dozens of world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, were in Paris yesterday to pay their final respects to France’s late president Jacques Chirac as the country held a national day of mourning for its popular former head of state.

Putin and other world leaders joined President Emmanuel Macron for a church service in the French capital, a day after thousands of people queued to view the coffin.

Chirac’s death on Thursday aged 86 prompted a flood of tributes to a man whose high-profile political 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 during a long spell in office and again threw the spotlight on a 2011 conviction for graft over his time as Paris mayor.

Nevertheless, a poll in Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper showed that the French consider him their best president of the modern era, alongside Charles de Gaulle, with his finest achievement seen as opposing the 2003 United States (US)-led invasion of Iraq.

Thousands lined up on Sunday in a queue that wound around the Invalides memorial complex, braving rainy weather and the prospect of an hours-long wait, to glimpse Chirac’s coffin draped in a French flag.

French President Emmanuel Macron stands in front the flag-draped coffin of late French President Jacques Chirac during a military funeral honours ceremony at the Invalides monument during a national day of mourning in Paris. PHOTO: AP

The national day of mourning yesterday saw a minute of silence observed in all public institutions and schools.

The tributes will continue through tomorrow, when the France rugby team will don black armbands in a sign of mourning for Chirac during their World Cup clash with the US in the Japanese city of Fukuoka.

After a private service for his family at Invalides, Chirac’s coffin was driven under military escort through the streets of Paris to Saint-Sulpice church for the final memorial.

The Elysee said some 30 heads of state and government are expected to be present, including Putin, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Former leaders who worked closely with Chirac, notably including German ex-chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, was also there.

European Union Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker and former US President Bill Clinton also attended.