December 23, 2011

Vaclav Havel funeral: World leaders pay respects

Vaclav Havel's funeral ceremonyPrague's archbishop read out a message from Pope Benedict praising Vaclav Havel's courageous defence of human rights

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The funeral of former Czech President Vaclav Havel is taking place in the capital, Prague, attended by leaders from around the world.
A bell tolled at the start of the ceremony at St Vitus Cathedral, as mourners in the building and those filling the square outside observed a moment of silence.
Havel, who led the 1989 overthrow of communism, died on Sunday aged 75.
The Archbishop of Prague read out a tribute from Pope Benedict.
The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, are among the mourners.
The presidents of France and Germany are also attending, along with UK Prime Minister David Cameron.
Poland's own dissident-turned-president, Lech Walesa, is also there, along with current leaders from across Eastern Europe.
The former US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, herself born in Prague, is to speak at the ceremony, along with the Czech Foreign Minister, Karel Schwarzenberg.
UK PM David Cameron, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrive
Havel's coffin lay in state at Prague Castle for several days prior to the ceremony. Thousands of people queued to pay their respects.
The funeral is being shown on big screens in Hradcany Square.
Since Havel's death on Sunday, tributes have come from a wide range of world leaders as well as from Czech citizens.
"I wish that all who are not indifferent to the future of our country, pursue their opinions with the same courage and conviction as Vaclav Havel did," said the current President, Vaclav Klaus.
In a letter to Mr Klaus the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, said Havel's "fight for freedom and democracy was as unforgettable as his great humanity".
"We Germans also have much to thank him for. Together with you, we mourn the loss of a great European," she said.
Lech Walesa called Havel "a great fighter for the freedom of nations and for democracy".
Prisoner to president
Vaclav Havel first made his name as a playwright in the 1960s.
The increased freedom brought to Czechoslovakia by the Prague Spring in 1968 allowed him to satirise the communist old guard, which won him wide public acclaim.
But the Soviet invasion later that year saw his work banned and he was driven underground.
He became Czechoslovakia's most famous dissident and was jailed for "anti-state activity".
In 1989 when communism fell he moved in a matter of months from being a political prisoner to president of the country.
The euphoria soon faded when Slovak nationalists succeeded in their campaign for independence during 1992.
This prompted Havel to resign from the presidency, but a few months later after the "velvet divorce" at the start of 1993, he was re-elected Czech president.
Although he was sometimes a reluctant leader, he continued to serve as president until 2003.

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