September 30, 2019 / 7:10 AM / 15 days ago

France bids farewell to ex-President Chirac

PARIS (Reuters) - World leaders, past and present, stood in silence in Paris on Monday at a funeral service for Jacques Chirac, the French leader remembered at home for his folksy charisma and abroad for opposing the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

France’s Emmanuel Macron, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and former U.S. President Bill Clinton were among the mourners at the Saint Sulpice church for a mass in memory of Chirac, who died last week aged 86.

After the funeral mass, during which pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim gave a rendition of one of Schubert’s “Impromptu” piano solos, Chirac was buried in a quiet ceremony for close family and friends at Paris’s Montparnasse ceremony.

He was buried in a plot next to his daughter Laurence, who died in 2016. A photograph from the cemetery showed Chirac’s other daughter, Claude, dressed in a black trouser suit and standing alone at his graveside.

Chirac, who served as president from 1995 to 2007, was feted by many French people for asserting their country’s role as a global player, a stance that put him at odds with Washington over the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Chirac was from his earliest years a member of the French establishment, but he also had a knack for connecting with ordinary people outside the urban elite. A court conviction after he left office for misusing public funds did little to tarnish his image.

“This former president ... had a true love for people, equally at home in the salons of the Elysee or the living room of a farmer,” Archbishop of Paris Michel Aupetit told the roughly 2,000 people gathered in the church for the funeral mass.

“Goodbye, and thank you Monsieur Chirac,” Aupetit added.

French President Emmanuel Macron stands in front of the flag-draped coffin of late French President Jacques Chirac during a military funeral honors ceremony at the Hotel des Invalides during a national day of mourning in Paris, France, September 30, 2019. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

MINUTE’S SILENCE

Other leaders at the Saint-Sulpice funeral included German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri. Prince Edward, youngest son of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, also attended.

President Macron hosted the visiting leaders at a lunch at the Elysee Palace, though Putin flew out before the lunch.

At 3 p.m. (1300 GMT) schools and government offices across France observed a minute’s silence in honor of Chirac. Flags flew at half-mast.

Chirac’s widow Bernadette was absent from the funeral mass because of frail health. Earlier, 86-year-old Bernadette and other members of Chirac’s family had attended a private service in the Hotel Des Invalides, the public building where Chirac’s body had lain in state over the weekend.

The last three French presidents to die, Charles de Gaulle, Georges Pompidou and Francois Mitterrand, all had their funeral masses at Notre Dame Cathedral.

The Saint-Sulpice church was chosen for Chirac’s service because Notre Dame was partially destroyed in a fire in April this year.

Over the weekend, thousands of people queued outside the Hotel des Invalides to pay tribute to Chirac. His coffin was on display, draped in the French flag and in front of a large photograph of a smiling Chirac.

Slideshow (13 Images)

Chirac was “someone who had a different idea of his role, of France’s role in the international community, who showed it in difficult situations”, said Paris resident Remu Issons, who was among the crowd at the lying-in-state.

Crowds gathered too at Paris town hall, where Chirac served for 18 years as mayor. “My heart is heavy,” said Anne Firmin, who was looking at a display of photographs of Chirac at the height of his political power. “For me, it’s my whole youth.”

Additional reporting by Noemie Olive and Clotaire Achi; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Alex Richardson

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