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Macron pays homage to Socialist president Mitterrand

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French President Emmanuel Macron stands in front of the tomb of former President Francois Mitterrand during a tribute ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of his death, on January 8, 2021 in the cemetery of Jarnac, central western France. (Photo by Philippe LOPEZ / POOL / AFP)

French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday paid his respects at the tomb of Socialist former president Francois Mitterrand on the 25th anniversary of his death, with left-wing grandees emphasising that France’s current leader had little in common with their hero.

Mitterrand, who died on January 8, 1996, ruled France for 14 years from 1981-1995, championing Europe, pushing reconciliation with Germany and pushing through key domestic reforms like abolishing the death penalty.

He remains a hero for Socialists in France, who are desperately seeking a new left-wing champion after the Socialist presidency of Francois Hollande ended in 2017 with the centrist Macron taking power and the party suffering unprecedented levels of unpopularity.

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Macron joined Hollande and other key French Socialist figures as well as the party’s current leader Olivier Faure to lay wreaths at the tomb in Mitterrand’s home town of Jarnac in southwest France.

“His two seven-year terms continue to inspire our collective history,” Macron wrote in a tribute on Twitter.

“Francois Mitterrand was one of the first to see the construction of Europe as a guarantee of stability and peace for the continent. Let us never forget his words: ‘Nationalism is war’,” he added.

Macron’s presence was deeply symbolic and the president had drawn figures from across the political spectrum, including the Socialists, to create his Republic On the Move (LREM) party that underpinned his meteoric rise to the presidency.

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But commentators sense that the president is shifting to the right rather than the left as he prepares for 2022 elections, which may turn into a face-off with far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

Faure said it was appropriate that Macron had attended the ceremony while emphasising the political distance between him and Mitterrand.

“I do not see anything in common between them in the policy they lead, “he told AFP.

He described Macron as a “chameleon president” who, while identifying with all France’s postwar leaders from Charles de Gaulle, is leading policies similar to those of Hollande’s right-wing predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy.

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