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PARIS (Reuters) - Philippe Seguin, head of France's top public finance watchdog and a trenchant Gaullist critic of closer European Union integration, has died at the age of 66, authorities said on Wednesday.
Seguin, who led a nationalist campaign against the Maastricht Treaty in a 1992 referendum that came close to turning French voters off the EU, clashed repeatedly with the establishment of his own center-right party.
A huge bearlike figure with a deep voice and sagging bags under his eyes, his iconoclastic style limited his political career but ensured that his voice remained a highly respected one in public debate.
"Philippe Seguin was not a man to compromise with his convictions," President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a statement. "Everyone remembers his Homeric struggle at the time of the Maastricht Treaty referendum when he deployed his remarkable capacities as an orator to defend his vision of the sovereignty of the French people," he said.
Seguin served as minister only once, holding the social affairs portfolio in the first "cohabitation" government under Socialist President Francois Mitterrand in 1986-88.
He served as Speaker of the National Assembly and in 2004 was appointed head of the Cour des Comptes, the body that watches over the government's handling of public finances.
Writing by James Mackenzie