Chirac returns to public eye with new foundation

Putting aside his recent legal troubles, former French president Jacques Chirac is set to launch his foundation for cultural diversity and sustainable development Monday at an inauguration in Paris attended by several distinguished friends.


Former president Jacques Chirac of France puts aside his legal troubles and returns to the public eye this week to launch his foundation for sustainable development and cultural diversity.

Surrounded by friends like the former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohammad Yunus and former president Abdou Diouf of Senegal -- all members of the foundation's honorary committee -- Chirac inaugurates the foundation in Paris on Monday.

The 75-year-old former president will unveil a first batch of development projects for Africa and plans to travel abroad, including a trip to China that was delayed after he underwent a pacemaker operation in April.

"In the face of major world challenges, I still want to fight," Chirac said in an interview last week with the daily Le Figaro, his first since leaving office last year. "And the foundation is the tool for this.  I want to stir and awaken consciences."

The high-profile event marks a rare public appearance by Chirac, who has been battling corruption allegations since he lost his presidential immunity and became a private citizen again after 12 years in office.

After handing over to Nicolas Sarkozy in May last year, Chirac retired to a quiet life with his wife Bernadette in a Paris Left Bank apartment.

But in November, he became the first former French head of state to be placed under formal investigation -- a step toward full criminal charges.

Chirac is suspected of misappropriating city funds for political ends when he was mayor of Paris from 1977 to 1995.  He has denied any wrongdoing.

The foundation was announced last year when Chirac stepped down and pledged to continue serving "in another capacity". It was legally established in March, with a modest endowment of one million euros and a small staff.

Half a dozen projects have been launched to promote access to water and medicines in west Africa, to combat deforestation in the Congo Basin and to save dying languages in Polynesia, said Michel Camdessus, a former director of the International Monetary Fund who helped set up the foundation.

The projects reflect Chirac's commitment to sustainable development, the environment and the "dialogue of cultures" -- areas that were close to his heart during his tenure as president, Camdessus told AFP.

"He is going to be travelling a lot, talking a lot and searching for synergies with other foundations and players," Camdessus said. "He will be tapping into his network of contacts throughout the world."

In west Africa, the foundation will train members of local communities in water management as part of a multi-billion-euro programme of the African Development Bank to promote access to clean water.

A quality-control laboratory for medicines in Benin is also getting support from the Chirac Foundation to combat fake and substandard drugs that cost lives, said Camdessus.

In partnership with the Geneva-based Tropical Trust Fund, the foundation is supporting efforts to prevent deforestation in the Congo Basin and to open an indigenous-language radio station to raise awareness about conservation among Congolese Pygmy communities.

The foundation is also launching the Sorosoro programme to protect dying languages such as Araki, now spoken by only eight people on the Polynesian island of Vanuatu.

It will also award the new Jacques Chirac Prize for Conflict Prevention in recognition of outstanding work for the promotion of peace.

Six former presidents have joined the foundation's honorary committee, including Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, along with the Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour and the former leader of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew.

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