Defeated PM shoots himself

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PIERRE BEREGOVOY, Prime Minister of France until five weeks ago, shot himself in the head with his police chauffeur's service pistol last night, and died on the way to hospital in Paris. He was flown in a critical condition to the Val de Grace military hospital after the suicide attempt in Nevers, his home town, 150 miles north of the capital.

Authorities in Nevers said Mr Beregovoy, 66, shot himself at 6.20pm near a canal in the town where he is mayor. He fired one bullet into his head. It was not clear how he obtained the gun but one report said he had taken it from the chauffeur.

Some sources said Mr Beregovoy had been depressed for about 10 days, others that his depression dated from the rout of the Socialist Party in parliamentary elections in March. He was also one of the many French politicians implicitly accused of dishonesty: he took an interest-free loan to buy an apartment from a businessman who was later accused of insider trading.

Although Mr Beregovoy was the last Socialist prime minister of Francois Mitterrand's presidency, which ends in 1995, he was not markedly responsible for the Left's decline. A respected finance minister with particular responsibility for the strong franc policy for eight years, he took over as prime minister in April last year from Edith Cresson.

Her 10 and a half months in office had been the most turbulent of any prime minister since Mr Mitterrand was elected president in 1981 and Mr Beregovoy was credited with bringing a calming influence to government.

His suicide came after an apparently normal Labour Day when, as was his custom, he spent the morning with trade unionists in Nevers, where he was the National Assembly deputy as well as mayor. Then he went for a walk before asking his chauffeur to drive him to the canal.

Born of Ukrainian parents in Normandy, he was a railwayman and a member of the Resistance during the Second World War. After the war, he became a Socialist militant and a staunch Mitterrand loyalist. Until the loan story surfaced, he had been seen as a man who was upright and pure.

Mr Beregovoy himself confirmed most of the details of the loan. The 1m francs ( pounds 120,000) were lent him by Roger-Patrice Pelat in 1986 when Mr Beregovoy was a National Assembly deputy in opposition during the first 1986-88 two-year period of 'cohabitation' or conservative government under the Socialist president. The second 'cohabitation' began with the defeat of Mr Beregovoy's government on 28 March.

Mr Beregovoy said he had taken the loan in accordance with the law and registered the deal with a public notary. He said he paid the money back on Pelat's death in 1989. Later he said he had paid it back in kind, in antiques and not in cash. Such reimbursements are hard to trace.

The affair was especially damaging because one official accusation against Pelat was that he had been involved with insider trading in connection with the French firm Pechiney's purchase of American Can from the US Triangle company in 1988. The Pechiney affair was one of the big scandals of the Socialist years.

Obituary, page 16

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