French President Jacques Chirac has announced that he will not be seeking a third term in office.

Mr Chirac's announcement means he will end his 40 year career on 16 May.

The two rounds of the French presidential elections take place on 22 April and 6 May. Current front runners in the polls are the conservative Nicolas Sarkozy and socialist Segolene Royal.

In a ten-minute address from the Elysee palace, Mr Chirac said he was proud of the work he had done, citing improvements for the elderly and the handicapped, reform of the pensions system and cuts in crime and unemployment.

He expressed regret at the rejection of the EU constitution in the 2005 referendum, but urged France to 'continue European construction'.

President Chirac led opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq and sparked a bitter diplomatic quarrel with Washington.

While many countries backed his stand on Iraq, Mr Chirac also felt international anger over French nuclear tests in the Pacific.

Jacques Chirac began his political career in 1962 as an advisor to prime minister Georges Pompidou and had his first cabinet post in 1967.

He served twice as prime minister, spent 18 years as mayor of Paris and had two consecutive terms as president.