Vaclav Havel funeral: World leaders pay respects
- 23 December 2011
- From the section Europe
Czechs and world leaders have been bidding farewell to former Czech President Vaclav Havel at a state funeral in Prague.
The current and former US secretaries of state were joined by leaders from France, Britain and many ex-communist countries in the cathedral of St Vitus.
Outside, after church bells rang out across the capital, thousands thronged to follow the service.
Havel, who helped lead the 1989 overthrow of communism, died aged 75.
He passed away on Sunday after a long respiratory illness, health issues that dated back to his time in prison.
The Archbishop of Prague read out a tribute from Pope Benedict, praising Mr Havel's courageous defence of human rights and his visionary leadership in creating a new democratic system.
"Remembering how courageously Mr Havel defended human rights at a time when these were systematically denied to the people of your country, and paying tribute to his visionary leadership... I give thanks to God for the freedom that the people of the Czech Republic now enjoy," Pope Benedict said in his statement.
The former US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright - who was herself born in Prague - spoke at the ceremony, along with Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg and current Czech President Vaclav Klaus.
She said Vaclav Havel had "brought light to the places of deepest darkness".
"He was one of the most respected men of the world, but was never satisfied that he had done everything he could have done," she said, adding that he would terribly missed but never forgotten.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, were among mourners.
The presidents of France and Germany also attended, along with UK Prime Minister David Cameron, Poland's own dissident-turned-president, Lech Walesa and current leaders from across Eastern Europe.
As Havel's coffin left the gothic cathedral, through its Golden Gate and en route to the city's Strasnice crematorium for a private family funeral, the crowd broke out into a long burst of applause.
The urn with Havel's ashes is to be buried at his family's plot at Prague's Vinohrady cemetery alongside his first wife, Olga, who died in 1996.
Ahead of the ceremony, thousands of people queued to pay their respects at his coffin as it lay in state at Prague Castle.
Later on Friday, a rock concert and festival of Havel's plays is due to take at the Lucerna Palace that the family built in the early 20th Century.
Prisoner to president
Vaclav Havel first made his name as a playwright in the 1960s.
The increased freedom brought to Czechoslovakia by the Prague Spring in 1968 allowed him to satirise the communist old guard, which won him wide public acclaim.
But the Soviet invasion later that year saw his work banned and he was driven underground.
He became Czechoslovakia's most famous dissident and was jailed for "anti-state activity".
In 1989, when communism fell, he moved in a matter of months from being a political prisoner to president of the country.
The euphoria soon faded when Slovak nationalists succeeded in their campaign for independence during 1992.
This prompted Havel to resign from the presidency, but a few months later after the "velvet divorce" at the start of 1993, he was re-elected Czech president.
Although he was sometimes a reluctant leader, he continued to serve as president until 2003.