French former Socialist premier Pierre Mauroy dies at 84

Former French Socialist prime minister Pierre Mauroy, whose reforming government conducted a slew of pathbreaking social reforms, has died at the age of 84, it was announced Friday.

Mauroy, who was premier between 1981 and 1984 under France's first Socialist president Francois Mitterrand, had undergone surgery in April last year for a cancerous tumour in his lung.

He was admitted to a hospital in Paris at the start of this month, a close associate said.

President Francois Hollande, who is on an official visit to Japan, said Mauroy was "a man who had served France during exceptional times."

The first Socialist premier in France's Fifth Republic, Mauroy "took courageous measures.... He served his country without ever undermining its fundamental values," Hollande said.

"A pillar of democratic socialism has left us," Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.

Mauroy's government cut the legal work week from 40 hours to 39, lowered the retirement age to 60, and extended the period of paid holidays by a week to five weeks.

It also greatly extended family benefits, increased the minimum old-age pension by 30 percent and broadened health care coverage with health insurance benefits made more widely available to part-time workers and the unemployed.

He is also credited in the 1980s with persuading British prime minister Margaret Thatcher to sanction the building of the Channel tunnel.

But his efforts to improve the French economy by boosting domestic consumption did not work in the long run and Mauroy was forced to undertake a series of austerity measures.

Mauroy began his career as a teacher and soon led the Socialist Young Movement. He rapidly rose within the party and became the second most powerful person in the Socialist Party in 1971 after Mitterrand.

Although the two men had an "exceptional friendship", Mauroy said, there were points of conflict as well.

"I have had many differences with Francois Mitterrand, much more than is generally known," he said.