PARIS: French people lined up at the presidential palace to pay their respects to former head of state Jacques Chirac on Friday (Sep 27), a giant of politics for three decades whose death sparked tributes to a complex but hugely charismatic leader.
Chirac, president from 1995 to 2007, died on Thursday aged 86 after a long period of ill health, with President Emmanuel Macron in an address to the nation praising "a man whom we loved as much as he loved us".
Even opponents hailed his charm and qualities as a political fighter, as well as how he stood up to Washington in 2003 by opposing the Iraq war.
But others also questioned how much he had actually achieved during a long period in office, with his career also shadowed by a graft conviction over his stint as Paris mayor.
Ahead of a public ceremony on Sunday, the French presidency threw open the doors of the Elysee Palace for anyone wanting to sign a book of condolence for Chirac.
Hundreds queued on Thursday evening with a long line stretching down the gravel courtyard which is normally strictly off limits to the public.
"He had a presence, he was charismatic – which later presidents are not," said Frenchman Pierre-Yves as he waited to sign the book overnight. "Jacques Chirac was the politician of my childhood," recalled Marion.
People were allowed in again on Friday morning.
"I express my admiration and tenderness for the last of the great presidents," read one tribute. "Thank you for fighting, thank you for this freedom and good spirits.
BURIAL ON MONDAY
A ceremony for members of the public will be held on Sunday at the Invalides memorial complex in Paris, the Elysee and his family announced.
This will be followed by a day of national mourning on Monday when a commemorative service will be held for him at the Saint Sulpice church in the Saint-Germain-des-Pres area of central Paris.
The former prime minister, mayor of Paris and president is then to be buried in the Montparnasse cemetery in a strictly private ceremony, Chirac's son-in-law Frederic Salat-Baroux told AFP.
Survived by his wife of over six decades Bernadette, he will be buried next to his daughter Laurence, who died in 2016.
Portraits of Chirac adorned the front pages of all France's newspapers with Le Parisien using the headline "So French. The adieu to the 'nice' president."
The Eiffel Tower also switched off its lights late on Thursday in a sign of respect.
The centre-right Chirac finally succeeded his long-time political rival, the Socialist Francois Mitterrand, in 1995 after two previously unsuccessful bids to secure the Elysee.
His death prompted intense discussions about his legacy to France, with commentators united in admiration of his wily political skills and homely style, but divided on what he achieved.
His reputation is also overshadowed by a conviction for graft dating to his time as mayor of Paris from 1977 to 1995, although it did not cause a major dent in his popularity.