French ex-president Giscard laid to rest in low-key ceremony

France's former president Valery Giscard d'Estaing, credited with leading social and technological reform of the country and placing it at the heart of Europe, was laid to rest Saturday in a low-key funeral attended only by family and his close circle.

French ex-president Giscard laid to rest in low-key ceremony
The funeral was held in the town of Authon in the Loire region. Photo: AFP

It had been the wish of Giscard, who ruled France from 1974-1981 and died on Wednesday of Covid-19 aged 94, to have such a small-scale ceremony, which was attended by around 40 people.

The ceremony, in the town of Authon in the Loire region of central France where he lived, contrasted with the lavish send-off for former president Jacques Chirac when he died in 2019.

Chirac was given a lying-in-state with thousands paying respects at his coffin in Paris before a funeral ceremony at the Saint Sulpice church attended by all France's living former leaders.

That ceremony in September 2019 was also the last time Giscard was seen in public.

“The president (Giscard) wanted the funeral to take place in the strictest privacy with family,” his son Henri Giscard d'Estaing told AFP on Friday.

“It turns out that the circumstances (due to the pandemic) mean that there would have been no other choice. We will therefore only have family members and the people who live around us in Authon,” he said.

With police standing guard outside, his coffin draped in French and European flags was carried into the Saint Hilaire church in Authon, an AFP correspondent said.

France will on Wednesday observe a day of national mourning in his memory decreed by President Emmanuel Macron, with people able to write tributes in books placed in town halls.

Under Giscard, France made great strides in nuclear power, high-speed train travel and legalised abortion.

He ensured that Paris was at the heart of Europe in a post-war partnership with Germany and also played a key role in what would become the G7 group of major world powers.

But ambitions to carve out a deep place in history were derailed in 1981 when he lost a tightly contested election to his Socialist rival Francois Mitterrand, who would rule France for the next 14 years.

READ MORE: Ex-French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing dies aged 94

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Macron caps US state visit with New Orleans trip

President Emmanuel Macron on Friday headed to the southern American city of New Orleans, which retains much of its French-infused heritage, as he wraps up a rare three-day state visit to the United States.

Macron caps US state visit with New Orleans trip

After vowing continued support for Ukraine and seeking to quell a EU-US trade dispute during White House talks with President Joe Biden, Macron was expected to meet with local officials and energy companies in New Orleans and unveil a French language program.

Once a French colonial city, New Orleans was sold to the United States by Napoleon as part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, and Macron has called it “the quintessential francophone land.”

Macron will promote an initiative to broaden access to French language education for American students, with a focus on disadvantaged groups “for whom the French language can be a multiplier of opportunities,” the French leader said.

Addressing members of the French community in Washington on Wednesday, Macron added that he wanted to revamp the image of the French tongue in the United States, “which is sometimes seen as elitist.”

Macron will follow in the footsteps of French President Charles de Gaulle, who visited New Orleans in 1960. As he strolls through the streets of “NOLA,” Macron is likely to stop by the “Vieux Carre,” or “French Quarter”, the bustling historic city center.

“We have a history in New Orleans and important things to say there concerning both our history and what we want to do for the future,” the Elysee Palace said in a statement.

Energy and climate

Besides celebrating French-American ties, Macron will pay tribute to the victims of Hurricane Katrina which killed more than 1,800 people in and around New Orleans and caused billions of dollars in damage in 2005.

Macron will also meet with businesses “devoted to energy and climate issues,” according to his office, while French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna and Louisiana Governor John Edwards will sign an energy deal.

Accompanied by French film director Claude Lelouch and dancer and choreographer Benjamin Millepied, Macron will meet local artists and prominent cultural figures of New Orleans, known as the birthplace of jazz.

The visit will come on the heels of a lavish dinner at the White House, headlined by master jazzman Jon Batiste, who comes from a family of New Orleans musicians.

Macron’s state visit — the first such formal occasion since Biden took office in January 2021 — symbolized how Washington and Paris have buried last year’s bitter spat over the way Australia pulled out of a French submarine deal in favor of acquiring US nuclear subs instead.

The visit featured a full military honor guard for Macron, including service members from the marines, army, air force and even a detachment of soldiers in 18th-century Revolutionary War garb.