Funeral of Vaclav Havel in Prague

World leaders will join the Czech Republic in a final farewell to the country's first post-communist president Vaclav Havel.

The funeral takes place in Prague today of the former Czech President Vaclav Havel.

The renowned playwright led the country's "Velvet Revolution" that ended Communist rule in 1989.

He died of respiratory illness last Sunday at the age of 75.

Among the international leaders attending today's ceremony at Prague Castle are French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister David Cameron, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her husband Bill, the former US President.

Brian McElduff, who is the Chargé d'Affaires in Prague, will represent the Government at the funeral. Former President Mary Robinson is also due to attend.

Mr Havel was an international symbol of freedom. As far back as 1968, when Soviet forces invaded what was then Czechoslovakia, he was identified as thorn in the side of the regime.

He was fired from a theatre and his plays and essays banned. Mr Havel would spend five years in jail for various dissident campaigns.

In November 1989, just six months after completing his last jail sentence, Mr Havel led hundreds of thousands of protesters through Prague's cobbled streets in a peaceful uprising that toppled Communisim.

Within a month, he had been elected president of Czechoslovakia.

When Slovakia declared independence, Mr Havel became president of the Czech Republic and remained so for a decade.

As President, he illustrated his love of music and counter-culture.

US musician Frank Zappa was appointed a cultural advisor and the Rolling Stones played a free concert in Prague, an event that many Czechs remember as a moment of realisation that independence was real.

A chain smoker for decades, Mr Havel suffered from ill health but still campaigned this year for democracy in the former Soviet republic of Belarus.

23.12.2011

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