French President Francois Mitterrand asked moderate Socialist Michel Rocard to form a new government Tuesday, hours after conservative leader Jacques Chirac formally resigned as prime minister, officials said.

A red carpet was rolled out at the entrance to the prime minister's Hotel Matignon office in preparation for the ceremony in which Chirac, 55, is to hand over power to former agriculture minister Rocard, 57.The conservative Chirac presented his resignation letter to Mitterrand, 71, at the presidential palace at 3:20 p.m. (9:20 a.m. EDT), Elysee officials said.

In a farewell speech to his ministers at the prime minister's Hotel Matignon offices, Chirac said, "The right thing in political life, after a defeat, is to prepare the reconquest."

Chirac looked grim and made no statement when he arrived for a 10-minute meeting with Mitterrand.

Mitterrand, 71, won re-election to a seven-year term by receiving 16.7 million votes, or 54.02 percent of those cast. It was the first time anyone captured a second presidential term by direct election since Gen. Charles de Gaulle founded the Fifth Republic in 1958.

Chirac won 14.2 million votes or about 46 percent.

His resignation will formally bring an end to a power-sharing arrangement - dubbed "cohabitation" - that began after the Chirac-led conservatives won control of the National Assembly in 1986 legislative elections.