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Player Of Many Roles, Mitterrand Dies At 79

Francois Mitterrand, the longest-serving leader of France since Napoleon III, a master of intrigue who brought socialism into the political mainstream only to see his power wane in his twilight years, died Monday at 79 after a long, stoic battle with prostate cancer.

Mitterrand was the last Western leader to have played a role in World War II - in his case, several roles, one of which was to serve the Nazibacked Vichy regime.

As the president of France between May 1981 and May 1995, he stayed in office longer than any of his Western counterparts.

As the architect of France’s Socialist Party, which he founded in 1971, he broke the domestic power of the Communists and made left-wing politics respectable.

He entered office amid high expectations, promising “a clean break with capitalism.” But he departed with his program in tatters and his country saddled with one of the highest unemployment rates in Western Europe.

However, he proved to be a strong foreign-policy leader.

He put aside France’s traditionally pro-Arab sympathies to join the United States in the Persian Gulf war against Saddam Hussein in 1991, neutralizing those on the French left who distrusted foreign adventurism in general and America in particular.

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