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Jacques Chirac

(b. 1932) French statesman, Prime Minister 1974–6 and 1986–8 and President 1995–2007

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(1932– )

French conservative politician, who used his popularity as mayor of Paris to become president of France in 1995.

The son of a Parisian banker, Chirac trained at the Institut d'Études Politiques, École Nationale d'Administration, and Harvard Business School. He was the parliamentary representative of the rural department of La Corrèze (1967–95), with which his family had had a historic connection. Chirac's flirtation with socialism was abandoned following his marriage to the niece of a prominent Gaullist. As a protégé of Georges Pompidou, he rose through party and public office to become minister of the interior. Strongly supporting the candidature of Valéry Giscard d'Estaing in the 1974 presidential election, Chirac's reward was the premiership (1974–76), which he held until the two men fell out. In 1976 Chirac founded the neo-Gaullist Rassamblement pour la République in a challenge for the leadership of the French right.

As a high-profile mayor of Paris (1977–95) he built up an extensive patronage, which enabled him to pursue his presidential ambitions and head off the emerging threat from the far-right Front Nationale, led by Jean-Marie Le Pen (1928– ). From 1981 to 1986 Chirac acted as leader of the right-wing opposition in the national assembly and from 1986 to 1988 served as prime minister for a second time, under the socialist president François Mitterrand. Defeated again in 1988 for the presidency, Chirac finally won it in 1995, defeating his own protégé, Edouard Balladur (1929– ), as well as the socialist candidate, Lionel Jospin (1937– ).

Chirac's presidency began amid controversy as France conducted a series of highly unpopular nuclear tests in the south Pacific, while at home the proposed welfare cuts provoked vigorous public protests. In 1997 Chirac responded by dissolving the national assembly, only to find that the subsequent elections destroyed the right's parliamentary majority, obliging him to allow Jospin to become prime minister.

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