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Chirac verdict: 'Guilty?! Me?!'

France's papers report on the historic guilty verdict for former French President Jacques Chirac. His political career now gets a damaging footnote: a two-year suspended sentence. And the US withdrawal from Iraq also gets full coverage. That's the focus for this French press review, Friday 16th December 2011.

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The main left-wing paper Liberation shows Jacques Chirac presented with a close-up head shot in black and white as if he is a common criminal. The paper writes the charges over that face: abuse of trust, embezzling public funds and illegal conflict of interest. The former president was given a two-year suspended sentence for paying members of his party for municipal jobs that did not exist during his 18 years as Mayor of Paris. The paper’s editorial says you have to spare a thought for him given his age and state of health. He has memory lapses and was not in court. But it adds that you have to praise the judge’s decision, all the while bearing in mind that this ruling comes a couple of decades after the events.

Le Parisien headlines “Ca finit mal” (“It ends badly”) saying it is the first time a former president has been sentenced. The cartoon inside shows Chirac speaking to the judge saying: “Guilty?! Me?!” and the judge replying: “Don't worry, François Hollande will probably pardon you on the 14th of July”. The Socialist presidential candidate Hollande is shown in polls as the favourite to win the presidency next year and if he does so he will have the right to grant a pardon.

The news website Rue 89 has a tweet from its editor in chief saying: “I do not share the crocodile tears for Jacques Chirac - his health is one thing, justice is another and justice had its day".

The front page of the right-wing daily Le Figaro is - surprise, surprise - putting Chirac’s sentence as the second main story on its front page showing just a grim-faced photo of the former leader. The inside coverage says there is “sadness and bewilderment on the right and restraint on the left’ about this ruling. It quotes the former president as saying that he contests the verdict “categorically” but will not appeal as he “did not, alas, have the strength to lead a battle for the truth”.

Le Figaro, meanwhile, looks at the war in Iraq. The editorial on the front page says the conflict served no purpose. The war began badly, the paper says, as it emerged Saddam Hussein did not have any weapons of mass destruction and that his alleged alliance with al Qaeda was largely invented. The paper says the conflict ends with Iraq lacking political stability and Iran poised to extend its influence in the region. 

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