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Former French president Jacques Chirac dies, aged 86

Paris

FORMER French president Jacques Chirac, a colossal figure in France's politics for three decades, has died at the age of 86, his family told AFP on Thursday.

The centre-right Mr Chirac rose to prominence as mayor of Paris before becoming prime minister and then serving as head of state from 1995-2007.

"President Jacques Chirac died this morning surrounded by his family, peacefully," his son-in-law Frederic Salat-Baroux told AFP.

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Mr Chirac's time at the Elysee saw France adopt the euro single currency and, in a landmark moment for relations with Washington, loudly oppose the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

A born political fighter, he bounced back from defeats in the 1981 and 1988 presidential elections to finally claim the Elysee in 1995.

His legacy is overshadowed by a conviction for graft dating to his time as mayor of Paris which saw him handed a suspended jail term. But this did little to dent his popularity among supporters.

First elected head of state in 1995 and then re-elected in 2002, Mr Chirac's 12 years in the Elysee Palace made him France's second longest-serving post-war president after his Socialist predecessor Francois Mitterrand.

"Jacques Chirac is part of the history of France," said parliament speaker Richard Ferrand from the ruling centrist party of President Emmanuel Macron. He said Mr Chirac left behind "a France that was like him - complex, sometimes crossed by contradictions and always motivated by an unbridled Republican passion".

Both chambers of France's parliament - the lower House National Assembly and the upper house Senate - observed a minute of silence after the news was announced. Mr Macron cancelled a planned trip to the south of France to discuss pension reform and will address the nation later.

Mr Macron's predecessor Francois Hollande praised Mr Chirac as a "fighter" who had "known how to establish a personal link with the French".

Mr Chirac's successor, Nicolas Sarkozy, who regarded the former president as a mentor, said: "A part of my life disappeared today." AFP