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Vaclav Havel, former Czech president, leader of "Velvet Revolution," dies at 75

Michael Winfrey and Jana Mlcochova Reuters 12/20/2011 00:53
Vaclav Havel, former Czech president, leader of "Velvet Revolution," dies at 75 - Czech Republic - politics - Obituary - Europe

Vaclav Havel, an anti-Communist playwright who became Czech president and a worldwide symbol of peace and freedom after leading the bloodless "Velvet Revolution," died at the age of 75 on Sunday.

The former chain smoker died at his country home in Hradecek, north of Prague, of a long respiratory illness after surviving operations for lung cancer and a burst intestine in the late 1990s that left him frail for more than a decade.

The diminutive playwright, who invited the Rolling Stones to medieval Prague castle, took Bill Clinton to a smoky Prague jazz club to play saxophone and was a friend of the Dalai Lama, rose to fame after facing down Prague's Communist rulers.

"His peaceful resistance shook the foundations of an empire, exposed the emptiness of a repressive ideology, and proved that moral leadership is more powerful than any weapon," President Barack Obama said in a statement.

"He played a seminal role in the Velvet Revolution that won his people their freedom and inspired generations to reach for self-determination and dignity in all parts of the world."

His plays were banned for two decades and he was thrown into prison three times after launching Charter 77, a manifesto demanding the Communist government adhere to international standards for human rights.

"I am extremely moved," an emotional Prime Minister Petr Necas told Czech Television when told of Havel's death.

"He was a symbol and the face of our republic, and he is one of the most prominent figures of the politics of the last and the start of this century. His departure is a huge loss. He still had a lot to say in political and social life."