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Prominent French politician Philippe Seguin dies aged 66

The former French government minister Philippe Seguin died overnight at the age of 66 of a heart attack. A "Gaullist" of the old guard, his most recent post was as president of France's public audit office.

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AFP - Former minister Philippe Seguin, a heavyweight of the French right best remembered for his opposition to the Maastricht Treaty that led to the euro, has died at the age of 66, officials said Thursday.

The burly former parliament speaker who served as president of France's Cour des comptes, the public audit office, died at his Paris home overnight of a heart attack, police and politicians said.

President Nicolas Sarkozy hailed Seguin as "one of the great figures and great voices of our national life" while his predecessor Jacques Chirac paid homage to a "statesman of exceptional intelligence."

A brilliant orator with a booming voice, Seguin shot to prominence in 1992 when he led the campaign for a 'no' vote to the Maastricht Treaty, facing off against a frail president Francois Mitterrand.

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The Gaullist politician would repeatedly point out that it was in Maastricht that D'Artagnan, one of Alexandre Dumas's three legendary musketeers, had died.

In the end, the 'yes' vote won by a narrow margin of 51 percent, but Seguin's reputation as a formidable debater and brilliant strategist was made.

A year later, in 1993, he was elected speaker of the National Assembly.

"Philippe Seguin was not a man to compromise his convictions," Sarkozy said in his tribute.

"Everyone remembers the homeric struggle he waged in the referendum campaign for the Maastricht Treaty during which he deployed his remarkable oratory skills to defend his vision of the French people's sovereignty."

Tributes poured in from across the political spectrum and also from the French football world, which counted him as one of its strongest fans.

Former interior minister Charles Pasqua, a fellow euro-sceptic, said Seguin was "a passionate man who loved his country" and his death was "a great loss for France".

Born in Tunis, Seguin hailed from modest roots but set himself on a path to power when he won entry into the ENA elite school of public administration and later joined the right-wing Rally for the Republic (RPR) party.

His first election victory came in 1978 when he won a parliament seat in the eastern Vosges district and eight years later, Seguin became minister of social affairs and employment in a government led by Jacques Chirac.

As parliament speaker, Seguin supported Chirac's bid for the presidency in 1995 and became a key advocate of centre-right social policies that helped propel Chirac to victory.

In 1997, he took over the helm of Chirac's RPR party, but he later fell out with the president and resigned as party leader, two years later, leaving Sarkozy in charge.

His political career suffered a setback in 2001 when he was defeated in the elections for Paris mayor by Socialist Bertrand Delanoe.

Since 2004 he had been president of France's public audit office.

Former prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin told Radio Classique that Seguin was "an exceptional character. He was afraid of nobody."

Flags flew at half-mast in the northeastern town of Epinal, where he served as mayor from 1983 to 1997. Funeral services will be held on Monday.

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