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Former Czech President Havel Urges World to Support Dissidents Seeking Freedom


Former Czech president and writer Vaclav Havel spoke this week at the U.S. Library of Congress at an event in support of dissidents fighting for freedom in several countries. VOA's Barry Wood reports.

Mr. Havel said it is essential that free men and women rally to the cause of those who are not free. At a ceremony recognizing eight freedom fighters from seven countries, Mr. Havel said he was proud that he once was also a dissident. "I think that it is extremely important that the democratic world, the democratic states, support these movements. All kinds of support is important. With all risks," he said.

That support, he said, could be books, education, and money.

One of the dissidents is Oksana Chelysheva from the Russian Chechen Friendship Society.

"Chechneya has become both a cause and a pretext for the slow dismantling of Russia's democracy," he said.

The Russian Chechen Friendship Society since 2000 has been documenting human rights abuses and atrocities by Russian forces in Chechnya.

Ramon Humberto Colas is an Afro-Cuban who was driven from the island after he set up a network of free libraries. A child psychologist, Colas identifies former presidents Nelson Mandela and Vaclav Havel as his heroes. "Cuban civil society is emerging to fight against intolerance and a totalitarian regime that restricts all freedom," he said.

Other dissidents honored at the event came from Burma, North Korea, Belarus, China and Iran.

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