Jacques Chirac, the former French president who championed Europe, and whose later years were blighted by corruption scandals, has died aged 86.
“President Jacques Chirac died this morning surrounded by his family, peacefully,” his son-in-law told the French news agency AFP.
Chirac served two terms as president, one as prime minister, and took France into the single European currency.
The French National Assembly observed a minute’s silence in his memory.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission and former Luxembourg premier, said he was “moved and devastated” to learn the news.
“Europe is not only losing a great statesman, but the president is losing a great friend,” Mr Junker said in a statement.
Chirac was born in 1932, the son of a bank manager. He served as head of state from 1995 to 2007 – making him France’s second longest-serving post-war president after his Socialist predecessor Francois Mitterrand. But his health steadily deteriorated after he stepped down until his death on Thursday.
Chirac also served as the French prime minister but was beset by a series of corruption scandals. In 2011, he was convicted of diverting public funds while serving as the mayor of Paris.
But he won widespread support for his opposition to French involvement in the Iraq War, and for being the first leader to recognise France’s role in the war-time deportation of Jews.
Among his major domestic political reforms was a reduction of the presidential term of office from seven to five years and the abolition of compulsory military service.
He moved during the course of his career from anti-European Gaullism to championing the European project and a European Union constitution that was then rejected by the majority of French voters.
In 2005, he suffered a stroke, and in 2014, his wife Bernadette said he would no longer speak in public, noting he had memory trouble.