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French president visits Arafat to pay last respects
www.chinaview.cn 2004-11-11 21:00:42

Special report: Concern mounts over Yasser Arafat's health

File photo dated on Oct.04, 2001 shows Arafat(L), Chirac and Annan. French President Jacques Chirac visited the Percy military hospital in the southwestern Paris suburb on Thursday morning to pay his last respects to the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who died at the age of 75.
File photo dated on Oct.04, 2001 shows Arafat(L), Chirac and Annan. French President Jacques Chirac visited the Percy military hospital in the southwestern Paris suburb on Thursday morning to pay his last respects to the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who died at the age of 75.  (File photo)

    CLAMART, France, Nov. 11 (Xinhuanet) -- French President Jacques Chirac visited the Percy military hospital in the southwestern Paris suburb on Thursday morning to pay his last respects to the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who died at the age of 75.

    Chirac was greeted by Palestinian representative in Paris, Leila Shahid, before entering the hospital.

    Chirac stayed for 25 minutes in front of Arafat's body and expressed his condolences to Arafat's wife Suha and Palestinian representative in Paris Leila Shahid.

    "I have come to bow before president Yasser Arafat and pay him a final homage," Chirac told reporters after the short visit, extending his "sincerest condolences to his wife, his family and his friends and I address a message of friendship and solidarity to the Palestinian people and their representatives."

    Earlier, shortly after Arafat passed away, Chirac paid tribute to the former Palestinian leader expressing France's willingness to boost the Middle East peace process.

    "I have learned with emotion of the death of President Yasser Arafat, first president of the Palestinian Authority," Chirac saidin a statement.

    He described Arafat as "a man of courage and conviction who for40 years has incarnated the Palestinians' fight for recognition oftheir national rights."

    "To the Palestinian people, at this moment of mourning I want to express the friendship of France and of the French people," he said.

    Chirac said he hoped Arafat's death would unite all Palestinians.

    "It is by remaining united that they will remain faithful to Yasser Arafat's memory and bring about the ideal to which he had devoted his existence," he said.

    France and other European Union members will firmly abide by their commitments "in favor of two states -- a viable, peaceful and democratic Palestinian state and the state of Israel," Chirac said.

    He said the roadmap peace plan approved by Arafat opens a perspective in which the two states live "side by side in peace and security."

    The international community should play its full role to ensureimplementation of the plan, Chirac added.

    Also on Thursday, a spokesman at the French Defense Ministry told Xinhua that Arafat's body will initially be taken to the Villacoublay military base near Paris where a French military Airbus A-319 will take the former Palestinian president's remains to Cairo later Thursday for a funeral at a mosque near the Cairo international airport on Friday.

    Arafat's body will then be flown by military helicopter to Ramallah for burial the same day at his headquarters where he had been confined by Israel for nearly three years.

    The French government will hold a farewell ceremony at the military base before Arafat's remains are flown to Cairo. French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin is expected to attend the ceremony.

    French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier is expected to attend the funeral in Cairo, the French Foreign Ministry announced on Thursday.

    Arafat died at the Percy military hospital at 3:30 a.m. local time (0230 GMT) on Thursday. Enditem

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