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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 July 2007, 12:18 GMT 13:18 UK
Profile: Jacques Chirac
Jacques Chirac in February 2007
Jacques Chirac's anti-war stance on Iraq earned admiration

BBC News looks at the career of Jacques Chirac, whose second and final term as French president ended on 16 May 2007.

Jacques Chirac's re-election as president in 2002, with a huge cross-party majority, crowned a career which saw him twice serve as prime minister.

In 1976 he founded his own party, the RPR (Rally for the Republic), which later joined with others to form the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), and for 18 years he held the powerful post of Paris mayor.

Inspired by General de Gaulle to enter public life, he was already economy minister in the late 1960s, and he had spells in both the national and European parliaments.

He is what the French call "un bon gars" - a grand lad.

JACQUES CHIRAC'S FAMILY
Married Bernadette Chodron de Courcel in 1956
Two daughters, Laurence and Claude - his PR adviser
Informally adopted Anh Dao Traxel, a Vietnamese boatperson, in 1979

His legendary appetite, his heartiness, his past reputation with the ladies, his penchant for sumo wrestling - all helped create a public image which is popular and enduring.

His political beliefs have been obscure and his judgment questionable while corruption allegations have dogged his career.

Long road to the top

Jacques Rene Chirac was born in 1932, the son of a bank manager who went on to become managing director of the Dassault aircraft company.

Francois Mitterrand (right) hands over to Jacques Chirac in 1995
Mitterrand handed over to Mr Chirac after foxing him for years

Educated at the elite Ecole National d'Administration, the young Chirac flirted with communism and pacifism.

The 1960s saw him as an assistant to the Gaullist Prime Minister, Georges Pompidou.

Pompidou marked Mr Chirac out for the top and made him a junior minister in 1967.

It was another president, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, who made him prime minister for the first time in 1974, a post he held for two years before resigning.

His period as mayor of Paris from 1977-1995 was interrupted in 1986-88 when he returned as prime minister for his famous cohabitation with Socialist President Francois Mitterrand, who seemed happy to trip up the right-wing government at every opportunity.

Finally, in 1995, with Mitterrand dying and out of the running, he won the presidency itself, having stood and lost in the 1981 and 1988 elections.

'Chameleon Bonaparte'

One of Mr Chirac's nicknames has been Chameleon Bonaparte. Another is La Girouette - the weathervane.

Paris Mayor Jacques Chirac (left) with Nicolas Sarkozy in 1981
Mr Chirac favoured the young Nicolas Sarkozy then fell out with him

At one point an anti-European Gaullist, he became a champion of the single currency.

He fought the 2002 election on a soft-left platform promising to "heal the social fracture," but then appointed a finance minister of the "Thatcherite" right.

He ordered nuclear tests in the Pacific, then came over all green.

"Chirac wolfs down everyone else's ideas, and then - phut!" said former environment minister Brice Lalonde.

What of the political nous attributed to him by admirers?

In 1997, Mr Chirac dissolved the National Assembly a year early, despite having a strong right-wing majority.

His supporters promptly lost the election, and Mr Chirac had to spend the last five years of his first presidency sitting on his hands.

Cash questions

During Mr Chirac's 18 years as Paris mayor, there were widespread claims that he and his entourage were using city funds to pay for the RPR.

Questions were also asked about Mr Chirac's luxury family holidays - paid for in cash - while his tenure as mayor also provoked claims of lavish spending of the city's money on family groceries, at a rate of thousands of dollars a week.

A ruling by the country's constitutional council in 1999 gave the president blanket immunity from prosecution while in office.

When he appointed his former legal adviser as chief prosecutor of Paris, the decision was condemned by the opposition as it is a key post in launching any anti-corruption proceedings.

Former PM Alain Juppe and several other close allies have already been convicted of illegal party fund-raising.

Legacy

Many in France may remember Jacques Chirac as the man they chose, some of them very reluctantly, to defeat Jean-Marie Le Pen at the 2002 election, when the far-right leader reached the run-off in a shock development, at the expense of the Socialists' Lionel Jospin.

Jacques Chirac opens the new museum
Jacques Chirac lavished praise on the tribal art museum

One of his major political reforms was to cut the presidential term of office from seven to five years, bringing it into line with that of parliament, though it meant a shorter second presidency for himself.

Mitterrand was associated with various grand public projects such as the Louvre pyramid, the Grand Arch of La Defense and the Bastille Opera.

The one public building commonly associated with Mr Chirac is the tribal art museum, Musee du Quai Branly, which he opened in 2006.

Unfortunately for the president, some historians and human rights groups have said the display perpetuates the colonialist views of African and Asian culture and fails to address damage done to many cultures by imperialism.

Abroad, the French leader was seen as the focus of opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

His years in office may also be remembered for his rude remarks about other countries, particularly the UK.

In 2005, for example, he said of the British "One cannot trust people whose cuisine is so bad", although Finnish food, in his well-fed opinion, was Europe's worst.


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