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Abe pays tribute to Chirac as 'great statesman'

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, and French President Jacques Chirac shake hands during their meeting in Paris in January 2007. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday that Jacques Chirac was "a great statesman and an irreplaceable friend," as the premier paid tribute to the former French president, who was well known as a Japanophile.

    "I would like to express my deepest condolences on the death of a great statesman and an irreplaceable friend," Abe, who is currently on a visit to Belgium, said in a message to Chirac's widow.

    Chirac "demonstrated unparalleled leadership during a time of great upheaval and made a valuable contribution to global peace and prosperity," he said.

    Abe said Chirac's many visits to Japan and keen interest in Japanese culture deepened into an understanding that was to the great benefit of the two countries' relationship.

    Chirac, who was president from 1995 to 2007, died Thursday in Paris at the age of 86.

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