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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 May 2007, 19:41 GMT 20:41 UK
Chirac bids farewell urging unity
Outgoing French President Jacques Chirac
Mr Chirac has been president of France since 1995
French President Jacques Chirac has bid farewell to the nation he has led for more than a decade, in a televised address to the country.

Mr Chirac, whose political career spanned four decades, said he was "proud of a duty well accomplished".

He expressed "great confidence in the future of France" and wished his successor - his rival Nicolas Sarkozy - best wishes for his new role.

The 74-year-old will formally hand over power to Mr Sarkozy on Wednesday.

Mr Chirac urged his compatriots to "always stand united" in what analysts said recalled one of the low points of his tenure - the 2005 race riots that spread from Paris to other major cities.

"A nation is a family. This link that unites us is our most precious asset," he said.

'Generous nation'

The outgoing president said he was convinced France would remain at the forefront of European affairs.

"France will show itself to be an exemplary nation, a nation which drives the building of Europe, a generous nation," he said in his final address from the Elysee Palace.

Mr Chirac's new flat in Paris
Mr Chirac's apartment in Paris will be guarded by French police

He said the three key challenges faced by the world were peace, development and the environment and pledged to use his influence to ensure these remain at the top of the political agenda.

"I will continue in my struggles," he said, "I will contribute my experience to make specific projects progress - both in France and beyond."

Mr Chirac plans to establish a foundation devoted to saving the environment and promoting cross-cultural dialogue.

The foundation, which is to bear his name, will be launched this autumn as part of Mr Chirac's pledge to serve France "in a different manner".

Run on private funds, it will resemble that set up by former US President Bill Clinton.

Corruption allegations

Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Chirac accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, a move which clears the way for Nicolas Sarkozy to nominate a new government later this week.

The next French prime minister is widely expected to be moderate conservative Francois Fillon, who could take office as early as Thursday morning.

Mr Chirac will leave the Elysee for good on Wednesday after a ceremony transferring power to Mr Sarkozy at 1100 (0900 GMT). He will also hand over the launch codes of France's nuclear arsenal.

After stepping down, Mr Chirac will be given an office paid for by the state and a pension of 19,000 euros ($26,000) per month.

As a former head of state, he will also become a member of France's highest constitutional authority, the Constitutional Council.

The president's retirement may be overshadowed, however, by the prospect of being questioned by a judge investigating an illegal party-funding scheme dating back to his 18 years as mayor of Paris.

Under French law, Mr Chirac's presidential immunity will expire on 16 June, one month after he leaves office.

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