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Human Rights Group Pays Tribute to Late Czech Leader

Former Czech president Vaclav Havel launches Amnesty International's campaign in support of three prisoners of conscience, Syrian lawyer Muhannad Al-Hasani, Iranian woman Sakineh Ashtiani and Chinese journalist Shi Tao, in Prague, Czech Republic. (File Ph

A top human rights group has paid tribute to Vaclav Havel, the former Czech leader who died Sunday of respiratory problems at the age of 75.

Amnesty International said Wednesday that Havel was a human rights defender who left behind "an outstanding moral and intellectual legacy." A senior Amnesty official, Salil Shetty, said Havel's work as an advocate for human rights, democracy and freedom is an inspiration to everyone.

In 2003, Amnesty International named Havel its first "Ambassador of Conscience," the group's most prestigious human rights award.

Havel, a dissident playwright, was Czechoslovakia's first democratically elected president. On taking office in 1989, he oversaw the country's transition to a free-market economy and democracy, as well as its peaceful 1993 division into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

He served as president of Czechoslovakia from 1989 to 1992, and the Czech Republic from 1993 to 2003.

His funeral is scheduled for Friday.