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France Honors Jacques Chirac With a Day of Mourning

PARIS — World leaders and dignitaries gathered in Paris on Monday as France marked a national day of mourning for Jacques Chirac, the former French president who died last week.

After Mr. Chirac’s family met privately on Monday morning, President Emmanuel Macron presided over a military ceremony in his honor in the courtyard of the Invalides monument in central Paris.

A military band played the Marseillaise, France’s national anthem, before Mr. Chirac’s coffin, which was draped in the blue, white and red French flag, as a somber-looking Mr. Macron stood by.

A funeral procession then brought the coffin to the St.-Sulpice church, about a mile east, where nearly 2,000 guests gathered for a religious service, including former French presidents, dozens of French officials and representatives from across the political spectrum.

One of Notre-Dame Cathedral’s main bells rang out to mark the procession’s departure, the first time it has tolled since a fire ravaged the building in April. Small crowds lined the streets and clapped as Mr. Chirac’s hearse, surrounded by a motorcade, slowly drove by.

Current and past world leaders also attended the religious ceremony, including President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon, President Bill Clinton, and the two men who led France between Mr. Chirac and Mr. Macron, Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande. President Trump was represented by Jamie McCourt, the United States ambassador to France.

Hundreds clustered in front of St.-Sulpice to watch the ceremony on large screens that were set up outside. Others gathered on nearby streets where the police had blocked off road access to the church square.

Jean-Pierre Desplanche, 68, said it was important for him to be there because Mr. Chirac had been a part of his “whole life.”

“Given my age, I followed his progress almost from the beginning,” Mr. Desplanche said.

Mr. Chirac, who died at age 86, had one of France’s longest-running political careers, including terms as a legislator, cabinet minister and prime minister, and 18 years as mayor of Paris.

He served two consecutive terms as president of France, from 1995 to 2007, and his death last week was followed by an outpour of nostalgia — less for his domestic policy record than for his personality, as generations of French people fondly recalled Mr. Chirac’s bon vivant charm.

One poll by the research firm Ifop, published by the Journal du Dimanche newspaper this weekend, found that Mr. Chirac was best remembered by the French for his opposition to the American-led war in Iraq in 2003 and his decision to end the mandatory military draft. A majority of respondents also described him as “a likable person who loved life” and a politician who was “close to the French.”

Camille Guiraut, a 22-year-old student, joined the crowd near St.-Sulpice during her break. Even though she was too young to have been familiar with his time as president, her family had passed down “the image of the president at the salon de l’agriculture,” she said, referring to the annual agricultural fair that Mr. Chirac was famous for attending for hours, sampling cheeses, drinking wine, and admiring the livestock.

“It makes him familiar, likable, someone who is interested in people,” Ms. Guiraut said.

Mr. Macron, in a speech on Thursday after Mr. Chirac’s death, said that “over 40 years” in politics had made the former president “a familiar face.”

“We the French have lost a statesman whom we loved as much as he loved us,” Mr. Macron said.

On Sunday, thousands waited in line in the rain to enter the Invalides monument, where Mr. Chirac’s coffin remained on display late into the night. Audio passages of some his most famous speeches played in the background, and booklets were handed out with excerpts from his writings.

Flags on public buildings flew at half-staff on Monday and a minute of silence was held in schools and public offices at 3 p.m. Mr. Chirac was buried in the afternoon at the Montparnasse Cemetery, in southern Paris.

In recent days, visitors have also flocked to the Quai Branly museum, a project of Mr. Chirac’s that was inaugurated in 2006 and later named after him, since he was especially fond of African and Asian art. In his honor, admission to the museum is free until Oct. 11.

Source: NYT > World News

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