Czechs, world leaders mourn Vaclav Havel

Czechs joined their leaders and foreign politicians Sunday in paying tribute to Vaclav Havel, who led the 1989 Velvet Revolution that peacefully toppled communism in the former Czechoslovakia.

A black flag flew over Prague Castle, the presidential seat, while Czechs lit candles to remember the the dissident playwright who helped kick off the fall of the Iron Curtain and then served as president of Czechoslovakia, and later the Czech Republic.

“Mr. President, thank you for democracy,” read a note placed at the monument to the revolution in downtown Prague.

Others visited his villa to lay flowers and light candles in memory of the revolutionary-turned-politician, who died Sunday at the age of 75. Josef Klik, a 67-year-old, was among the mourners.

“He is an unforgettable person who contributed to the fall of communism,” Klik said. “And after that, he remained a moral authority for ordinary people.”

An impromptu gathering of mourners was called for Sunday evening at downtown Wenceslas Square, where Havel rallied hundreds of thousands in 1989. Another was scheduled for the second largest Czech city, Brno.

Bells will toll from cathedrals and churches across the country at 6 p.m. Sunday (1700 GMT; 12:00 EST), said Prague archbishop Dominik Duka, who spent some time with Havel in a communist prison.

Duka said Havel “knew what it meant to lose freedom, be denied dignity, what is repression and inprisonment.”

“I am convinced that we all, no matter what our political or religious views are, should pay respect to him and thank him,” Duka said.

The Czech government meets Monday to declare a period of official mourning. Czech public television announced it would broadcast Havel's film version of his last play, “Leaving,” his directorial debut. Czech public radio said it would play some of the favorite music of the noted rock music fan.

Vaclav Klaus, Havel's political archrival who replaced him as president in 2003, said condolence books will be available for people to sign at the Prague castle the same day.

Klaus called Havel “the symbol of the new era of the Czech state,” and Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg added that Havel “returned dignity to the Czech nation.”

Tributes poured in from around the world. The founder of the Polish anti-communist Solidarity movement and former president Lech Walesa called Havel “a great fighter for the freedom of nations and for democracy.”

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who is of Czech origin, said Havel “leaves our world better for having been a part of it.”

Havel's funeral may take place on Friday, the local CTK news agency reported.

APGovernment and politicsnewsUS

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