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Jacques Foccart, "Mr. Africa'

Jacques Foccart, the longtime architect of French policy in Africa who often wielded more power than African heads of state and even orchestrated their rise and fall, died Wednesday.

Mr. Foccart, 83, died after a long illness, said President Jacques Chirac's Rally for the Republic Party, the political successor to Charles de Gaulle, under whom Mr. Foccart came to prominence. He had suffered several heart attacks.

Known as "Mr. Africa," he worked behind the scenes, often with French intelligence, to forge a post-colonial policy for France's former territories. He picked, advised and sometimes toppled the presidents of newly independent nations in the 1960s. In retirement, he still advised Chirac.

Two years ago, he abandoned the secretiveness that marked his job and style for a tell-all book, Foccart Speaks, about the world of French policymaking in Africa.

Mr. Foccart also said that even at the height of the Cold War, France viewed the United States as a worrisome rival in Africa.

Mr. Foccart was criticized by some African opposition leaders for his interference in the affairs of young nations.

"It was he who made and unmade many regimes in Africa," biographer Pierre Pean said on France Info radio.

His death coincides with a turning point for French policy in Africa, long viewed by the French as their special sphere of influence.

"There is a symbol between the fall of Kisangani (in Zaire), the (possible) fall of Mobutu (Sese Seko) and the death of Jacques Foccart," said Pean. "I believe this is the end of an era, the end of France's African policy."