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Czech Republic

Czechs mourn Vaclav Havel as world leaders pay tribute

Reuters/Petr Josek

Mourners gathered on Monday at Prague Castle, the seat of Czech presidents, to pay homage to the former Czech president Vaclav Havel.


The former playwright and revolutionary was president of Czechoslovakia from 1989 to 1992 and then president of the Czech Republic from 1993 to 2003.

He died at the age of 75 on Sunday after a long battle with respiratory illness, which was a legacy of the almost five years he spent in communist jails.

Queuing outside Prague Castle with her small son, 32-year-old Martina Binarova called Havel a "great role model."

"I was 10 when the 1989 revolution took place, and I was very excited even as a child," she said about the peaceful Velvet Revolution led by Havel which toppled communism in the former Czechoslovakia.

Havel will be honoured with a state funeral, Czech President Vaclav Klaus said in a statement, and the CTK news agency said it was likely to be held on Friday.

The centre-right Czech cabinet was due to meet later on Monday to plan national mourning for Havel.

His coffin will be on display Monday and Tuesday in a Prague church, before being moved to Prague Castle on Wednesday.

Spontaneous vigils started as news of Havel's death spread on Sunday afternoon, and people set up impromptu memorials created on Prague's central Wenceslas Square, the focal point of anti-communist rallies in 1989, and at Prague Castle.

Church bells rang out in unison across the country on Sunday evening.

A special memorial was also created at Havel's weekend home in the village of Hradecek, about 140 kilometres northeast of Prague, where Havel passed away in his sleep on Sunday morning.

Meanwhile tributes to Havel poured in from leaders around the world.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany, described Havel as a "great European".

France's president Nicolas Sarkozy said the Czech Republic had "lost one of its great patriots, France a friend and Europe one of its wisest men."

And US president Barack Obama talked of Havel's great vision and moral courage and said he "shook the foundations of an empire" with his peaceful resistance to communist rule.




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