Vaclav Havel will receive a state funeral, a first for the Czech Republic [Reuters]


Thousands of Czech citizens have paid their respects to Vaclav Havel, the former dissident playwright who became the country's president after the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Some 10,000 mourners mostly in black, some carrying Czech or Slovak flags, stood along the route through the heart of Prague on Thursday morning as a casket containing Havel's body was transported to the presidential residency where it will remain on display until Friday's state funeral.

The coffin was then placed on a gun carriage drawn by six horses and accompanied by 700 soldiers in ceremonial uniform.

Many of those who lined the streets greeted the black car carrying the coffin with applause.

Flags flew at half mast across the Czech Republic on Wednesday, the first day of national mourning as theatres, cinemas and music clubs cancelled  performances.

Havel, who died on Sunday, wove theatre into politics to peacefully bring down communism in Czechoslovakia and become a hero of the epic struggle that ended the Cold War.

He was then-Czechoslovakia's first democratically elected president after the non-violent "Velvet Revolution" that ended four decades of repression by a regime he ridiculed as "Absurdistan".

As president, he oversaw the country's bumpy transition to democracy and a free-market economy, as well its peaceful 1993 breakup into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Friday's funeral, at St Vitus Cathedral in Prague, will be the Czech Republic's first state funeral since independence and is expected to be attended by dignitaries from around the world, including Bill and Hillary Clinton, the former US president and current US secretary of state.

Source: Agencies