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 (Sep 26). He was 86.
The centre-right 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.
Twice elected head of state in 1995 and 2002, his 12 years in the Elysee Palace made him France's second longest-serving post-war president after his Socialist predecessor Francois Mitterrand.
Under Chirac's presidency, France entered into the single European currency and abolished compulsory military service. Chirac also cut the presidential term of office from seven to five years.
On the international stage, Chirac will be best remembered for angering the United States with his public opposition to the 2003 war in Iraq.
But his legacy is also shadowed by a conviction for graft dating to his time as mayor of Paris. After leaving office he was handed a suspended jail term that nonetheless did little to dent his popularity among supporters.
He suffered a stroke in 2005 and underwent successful kidney surgery in December 2013, and was rarely seen in public in recent years.
"Jacques Chirac is part of the history of France," said parliament speaker Richard Ferrand.
He said he left behind a "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 as the news was announced.
The president of the European Commission and former Luxembourg premier Jean-Claude Juncker was "moved and devastated" to learn of Chirac's death.
"Europe is not only losing a great statesman but the president is losing a great friend," European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreaaaaaaaaeva quoted Juncker as saying.
Juncker wants to "pay tribute and honour his extensive lifelong work, and his legacy for France and the European Union will stay with us forever," she added.
"Even though one could have prepared for such a tragic moment the president has no words to express his grief and we'll be publishing shortly a longer declaration."
"LOVED FRANCE SO MUCH"
A conservative politician but with an appeal that extended beyond the right, Chirac served two stints as prime minister in 1974-76 and 1986-88 and was mayor of his native Paris from 1977-1995.
It was his time at the helm of the French capital that resulted, once he had lost his presidential immunity, in a conviction for embezzlement and misuse of public funds.
Chirac was found guilty in December 2011 of influence peddling, breach of trust and embezzlement.
He contested the ruling but did not appeal it, saying the French people "know who I am: an honest man" who worked only for "the grandeur of France and for peace."
Despite his long marriage to Bernadette, his passion for women was also renowned. He said just before leaving office: "There have been women I have loved a lot, as discreetly as possible."
A politician with a popular touch, who loved the company of farmers and whose other interests included Chinese art, Chirac was regarded by supporters as one of France's most charismatic post-war politicians.
"He loved France so much. He loved the people, he loved touching them, he loved seeing them, he loved laughing with them," Line Renaud, an actress and friend of the former leader, told BFM television channel.
All sides of the political spectrum in France, for once, came together to pay tribute to what he had done for the country.
Chirac "loved France more than those who came after," said far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon.
Far-right National Rally leader Marine Le Pen said he was "capable of opposing madness and the war in Iraq".