World Leaders Gather for Ex-Czech President Havel’s Funeral

Posted December 23rd, 2011 at 2:15 am (UTC-5)
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World leaders and the people of the Czech Republic will pay final respects to former President Vaclav Havel at a state funeral in Prague Friday.

The 75-year old former Czech leader died in his sleep of respiratory problems on Sunday.

Mr. Havel, a dissident playwright, was his country's first democratically elected president.

Leaders from around the world will pay tribute to the former leader Friday.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Israeli President Shimon Peres, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy are among those expected to attend services for Mr. Havel at the Prague Castle.

Over the past three days, tens of thousands of Czechs have paid their respects as they strolled past his casket in a inside a church in Prague.

Mr. Havel took office in 1989, overseeing Czechoslovakia's transition to a free-market economy and democracy, as well as its peaceful 1993 split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Slovakia has declared Friday a national day of mourning in his honor.

Mr. Havel has been applauded by several European leaders, including Chancellor Merkel, who described him as a “great European” who fought for freedom on the continent.

Vaclav Havel was president of Czechoslovakia from 1989 to 1992, and leader of the Czech Republic from 1993 to 2003.