Funeral lament for death of ex-PM: Mitterrand salutes 'man of integrity'

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PRESIDENT Francois Mitterrand said yesterday that the honour of Pierre Beregovoy, who committed suicide last Saturday, had been 'thrown to the dogs'.

His voice at times on the point of breaking, Mr Mitterrand addressed a crowd of mourners in the centre of the town of Nevers, of which Bere govoy was mayor and where he shot himself. Leading politicians had earlier attended the funeral Mass for Beregovoy in St Cyr cathedral.

Beregovoy, who was prime minister for 11 months until the defeat of the Socialist government in general elections in March, had been in the limelight for accepting an interest-free loan to buy a flat in 1986 from Roger- Patrice Pelat, a businessman friend of Mr Mitterrand who was later accused of insider trading. Associates said the affair, first revealed in January, had deeply hurt Beregovoy, who until then had a reputation for impeccable honesty. Pelat died in 1989.

Mr Mitterrand, saying he was speaking in the name of France, said Beregovoy's gesture showed 'grandeur and despair, the grandeur of someone who chooses his destiny'. His friends, he said, 'are weeping for a man of integrity, a good man'.

The President's funeral address before Beregovoy's coffin on Nevers' main square, added to a furious controversy about the role of the judiciary and the media in the former prime minister's death. In Le Monde newspaper, Laurent Fabius, another former Socialist prime minister, said the voices which were paying Beregovoy tribute were the same as had 'dragged him through the mud'.

Francois Leotard, the centre-right Defence Minister in the new conservative government, wrote in the same issue about an 'elegant fascism' that tarnished the reputation of public figures. He said Beregovoy was 'the first victim of a new culture'.

Mr Mitterrand, quoting from foreign tributes to Beregovoy's handling of the French economy, both as prime minister and before as finance minister, recalled that he had risen from being a working man to high office. But 'the battle changed in nature and aimed for the heart'.

Beregovoy, he said, had shown 'the honesty of a citizen who preferred to die rather than undergo the affront of doubt'. It was unpardonable that his 'honour was thrown to the dogs'. The 75-minute funeral, relayed by loudspeaker to a crowd of several thousand outside the cathedral, was confined to a strictly religious service.

A church spokesman said that although Beregovoy was not a practising Roman Catholic he was entitled to a funeral like any baptised Christian. (There has not been any ban on religious rites for suicides since the Second Vatican Council). At the end, as mourners filed out, a local orchestra which had earlier played Rossini and Mozart gave a rendering of 'Lara's Theme' from Dr Zhivago, Beregovoy's favourite tune.