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France

Ailing Chirac celebrates 80th birthday far from spotlight

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2012-11-30

Visibly tired and suffering from memory loss, former French President Jacques Chirac, who celebrated his 80th birthday on November 29, today leads a life far from the political spotlight. France24.com takes a closer look.

When former French President Jacques Chirac turned 80 on Thursday, November 29, there was little fanfare. Chirac, who is known to dislike birthdays, celebrated only with immediate family.

The simplicity and discretion with which Chirac marked the event reflects his lifestyle of late. After presiding over France for two terms from 1995 to 2007, the retired head of state – the most admired of French politicians, according to an Ifop poll of French voters in 2010 -- indeed keeps a low profile these days.

Not even the leadership crisis currently ravaging the centre-right UMP (Union for a Popular Movement) party he helped found 10 years ago has brought him back into the public eye. After 30 years in politics (he was agriculture minister, interior minister, prime minister, and mayor of Paris before becoming president), he has turned the page on life in the spotlight, his friends and family say.

“He no longer comments on politics publicly,” Frédéric Salat-Baroux, who is married to Chirac’s daughter and acted as secretary of the Elysée Palace, said during an interview on radio station France Inter. “He doesn’t talk much about it.”

Chirac was said to have been more shaken up by the death of his close friend and former advisor, Senator Maurice Ulrich, earlier this month. The former president skipped the annual prize ceremony held by the Fondation Chirac, an organisation he established in 2008 to work towards conflict prevention around the world.

“He has ups and downs,” as the daily newspaper Le Parisien recently reported. “These days, it’s mainly downs.”

A life of routine, despite poor health

Chirac’s health is fragile, his entourage says, as he suffers from severe memory problems and other cognitive and physical difficulties. “Jacques Chirac has a hard time walking, and he seems exhausted,” Jean-Louis Debré, a close friend, said on radio station Europe 1. “It’s life, old age, and illness that are catching up to him, even if he doesn’t want to show it.”

Debré confessed that it was “sad” and “worrying” to see him in such a state.

Others were less bleak in their assessments of the former president. “He’s facing his poor health with a lot of dignity,” son-in-law Salat-Baroux said. “He’s leading another life, far from politics, closer to his interests and his family.”

As president, Chirac is mainly remembered for his foreign policy achievements -- particularly his vocal opposition to the Iraq war in 2003, a position much touted at home even as it earned him a reputation in the US as a thorn in then-President George W. Bush’s side.

In 2011, Chirac was found guilty of misusing public funds while he was mayor of Paris (from 1977 to 1995). He was given a 2-year suspended prison sentence (a period of probation, at the end of which the judge will likely throw out the sentence).

Today, despite a slower rhythm and a mostly empty calendar of obligations, Chirac continues to maintain a strict routine: he regularly stops by his private office (located on the Rue de Lille, in Paris’s elegant 7th district), where he makes phone calls in the morning and tends to administrative tasks in the afternoon, and then stops for an early evening drink at le Concorde, a brasserie on Boulevard Saint-Germain.

According to French magazine Paris Match, “every night of the working week, he eats the same dinner at home at 7:30: vegetable soup, pizza, and crepes”. On the weekend, Chirac frequently goes out to dinner with his wife, Bernadette.

His weekend days are spent with close friends and family – most notably, his 16-year-old grandson, Martin, who has already told Chirac that he will one day pursue a career in politics.

Date created : 2012-11-30

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