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French President Chirac Won't Seek Re-Election

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, Host:

While the new crop of French politicians were making the rounds at the agriculture fair, one of the nation's old guard is bowing out. President Jacques Chirac announced today that he's retiring from national politics. Eleanor Beardsley's back on the line from Paris. Eleanor, what did Chirac say in his nationally televised address to the French people today?

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Well, it was mostly a very emotional goodbye to the French people. He expressed his love and devotion to the magnificent country of France, he said, and to the French people. And he didn't talk about this year's race. He said I'll have time to endorse a candidate later. He just told them how grateful and how happy he was to have served them for the past 45 years.

ELLIOTT: Chirac has been an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq. Is the war a big issue in the presidential campaign?

BEARDSLEY: Not at all, because the French pretty much see this as they were right on this issue. They feel even the U.S. has come around to their point of view. So there's no debate on Iraq. And in France everyone considers it's been a total failure.

ELLIOTT: Now, as you said, Eleanor, Chirac has had 45 years in national politics. What do you think is going to be his political legacy?

BEARDSLEY: Well, his political legacy will definitely be on the international stage. He's seen as a failure for internal politics. He didn't manage to bring about pretty much any of the reforms he talked about making. But on the international stage, he was the figurehead for France. He led the opposition to the Iraq war and today the French people say that he was right to do that. He was a grand man to represent France internationally. That's his legacy.

ELLIOTT: Thanks very much. Reporter Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.

BEARDSLEY: Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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