World pays tribute to Czech statesman Vaclav Havel

Candles lit in tribute to Vaclav Havel in Prague. 18 Dec 2011 Hundreds of candles have been lit in memory of Vaclav Havel in Prague's Wenceslas Square

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Tributes have been flooding in from around the world following the death of the Czech Republic's first President, Vaclav Havel.

The former dissident playwright, who was 75, died on Sunday morning after a prolonged period of bad health.

US President Barack Obama said Mr Havel had "helped to unleash tides of history that led to a democratic Europe".

On Monday Mr Havel's coffin is being taken from his country cottage to the capital, Prague.

The BBC understands that his coffin will lie in state from Wednesday and a state funeral is expected on Friday.

The Czech Republic is observing a week of mourning and hundreds of candles have been lit in Wenceslas Square - once the focal point of the "Velvet Revolution" that overthrew the country's communist regime.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the Czech Republic had lost "one of its great patriots".

"France has lost a friend, and Europe has lost one of its wisest men," he said.

Vaclav Havel

Vaclav Havel in 1988
  • Born in 1936 to a wealthy family in Czechoslovakia
  • Considered "too bourgeois" by communist government, studied at night school
  • Writing banned and plays forced underground after the 1968 Prague Spring
  • In 1977, co-authored the Charter 77 movement for democratic change
  • Faced constant harassment and imprisonment as Czechoslovakia's most famous dissident
  • Czechoslovakia's first post-communist president in December 1989
  • Oversaw transition to democracy, and 1993 division into the Czech Republic and Slovakia
  • Left office in 2003 and continued writing, publishing a new play in 2008 and directing first film in 2011

German Chancellor Angela Merkel described Havel as a "great European".

"His fight for freedom and democracy was as unforgettable as his great humanity," she said.

"We Germans in particular have much for which we are grateful to him."

Havel, who had looked in poor health in recent appearances, died at his country home comforted by his wife Dagmar and several nuns, his secretary said.

A former heavy smoker, he had a history of chronic respiratory problems dating back to his years in communist prisons.

He had part of a lung removed during surgery for cancer in the 1990s.

In January 2009 he was taken to hospital in Prague with an unspecified inflammation, and developed breathing difficulties after undergoing minor throat surgery.

Havel first found international fame as a dissident playwright in the 1970s through his involvement with the human rights manifesto Charter 77.

His plays satirised life under communist rule, but his work was banned after the reformist Prague Spring of 1968 was crushed by a Soviet-led invasion.

His plays were banned and he was imprisoned several times.

Following the fall of communism in late 1989, he was elected president by the interim coalition cabinet.

He resigned in 1992 after Slovak nationalists successfully campaigned for the break-up of Czechoslovakia.

He was elected first president of the Czech Republic in January 1993, serving until 2003.

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