World leaders mourn Vaclav Havel

Foreign dignitaries join thousands of Czechs at funeral ceremony for former president who died on Sunday at age 75.

    World leaders have gathered in the Czech Republic to attend the state funeral of former President Vaclav Havel, who died on Sunday at the age of 75.

    French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister David Cameron and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were among those attending the ceremony at Prague Castle, the seat of Czech kings and presidents, on Friday.

    The funeral marks the third and final day of national mourning for Havel, a former dissident playwright who led his country's 1989 overthrow of communism. Slovakia has also declared Friday a day of national mourning.

    After the "velvet revolution", Havel served as president of Czechoslovakia from 1989 to 1992 and subsequently led the Czech Republic from 1993 to 2003 as the former federation split peacefully into two states.

    A thousand guests filled the St Vitus Cathedral, with thousands more following the ceremony on large screens from outside the building.

    "Remembering how courageously Mr Havel defended human rights at a time when these were systematically denied to the people of your country, and paying tribute to his visionary leadership ... I give thanks to God for the freedom that the people of the Czech Republic now enjoy," Pope Benedict said in a letter read out at Friday's mass.

    'Best politician'

    The former US secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, herself born in Prague, also spoke at the ceremony on Friday, along with Karel Schwarzenberg, the Czech foreign minister .


    Havel led what came to be known as the
    'Velvet Revolution' [Al Jazeera]

    At noon, the nation observed a minute's silence to mark Havel's death.

    Tens of thousands of Czechs over the past few days have paid homage to their former leader, standing in long lines in the Prague cold to view his casket at a church building in the city centre.

    Tom Sedlacek, a former adviser to Havel, told Al Jazeera that the former president was a man who was loved by the nation.

    "Havel was a pleasant, kind and meek leader," Sedlacek said.

    "He was a symbol of the European non-violent revolution, yet he was a reluctant politician, but the best politician we ever had."

    On Friday evening, a rock concert dedicated to Havel, himself a great rock fan, is to be staged at the Lucerna Palace, a sprawling edifice built at the turn of the last century by Havel's grandfather, a construction magnate.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and friends


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