News / Europe

Thousands Pay Last Respects to Former Czech Leader

Flags flew at half staff as the body of former Czech president Vaclav Havel was taken to Prague Castle, where he will lie in state ahead of his funeral on Friday.

Thousands of people lined the streets of old town Prague as the late president's body was transported to the castle. Many people applauded as the hearse made its way through the mourners, many dressed in black. The procession marks the start of a three-day period of mourning.

Key Dates in Vaclav Havel's Life:

October 5, 1936: Born into wealthy Prague family.

  • 1969: Banned as writer after 1968 Prague Spring.
  • 1977: Spokesman for Charter 77 group that criticizes communist officials.
  • October 23, 1979: Sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison for subversion.
  • December 1989: Becomes first democratically elected president of Czechoslovakia.
  • 1993: Czech Republic, Slovakia split; Havel elected president of Czech Republic, holds office until 2003.
  • January 14, 2009: Has throat surger, battles lung inflammation.
  • December 18, 2011: Dies at age of 75.

Leaders from around the world will gather to honor the dissident playwright and former president. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Israeli President Shimon Peres, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy are among the leaders expected to attend Havel's funeral.

The former Czech leader died in his sleep of respiratory problems Sunday at the age of 75. Havel, a dissident playwright, was his country's first democratically elected president. On taking office, he oversaw Czechoslovakia's transition to a free-market economy and democracy, as well as its peaceful 1993 division into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Havel was the president of Czechoslovakia from 1989 to 1992 , and the Czech Republic from 1993 to 2003.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.

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