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Havel Mourned As Remains Move To Prague Castle


A caisson with the flag-draped coffin of former Czechoslovak dissident and Czech President Vaclav Havel arrives at Prague Castle on December 21, accompanied by his widow and surrounded by mourners.
PRAGUE -- The Czech Republic has begun three-days of official mourning for former dissident and President Vaclav Havel with a memorial ceremony at Prague Castle and a eulogy delivered by current President Vaclav Klaus.

Havel, long an icon of opposition to communist rule and excesses, died of complications related to long-term health problems on December 18 at the age of 75.

The playwright and dissident Havel led the largely peaceful Velvet Revolution that ended decades of communist rule in what was then Czechoslovakia.

Klaus praised the former dissident leader as a powerful symbol of "the era that began in November 1989."

"His cause, his ideas, his legacy, and his example remain with us," Klaus, a frequent postcommunist critic whom Havel admitted in his autobiography to avoiding because of Klaus's confrontational political style, said. "And it is up to us to search for advice and inspiration in his example and apply it to ourselves and the whole country and its future."

Earlier, led by widow Dagmar Havlova, thousands of mourners accompanied the horse-drawn caisson with Havel's remains as it traveled through the city from a former church where Havel had been lying in repose since December 19 to Prague Castle's Vladislav Hall, where his body will lie in state for two days.

Some of the mourners displayed the flag of Slovakia in an acknowledgement of his leadership of that country under the former Czechoslovakia, the unified republic that Havel worked doggedly to preserve.

WATCH: People line the streets of the Czech capital as Vaclav Havel's remains are carried to Prague Castle:
Havel Procession Carries Coffin To Prague Castle
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Havel will be buried in a state funeral in Prague on December 23 with many world leaders expected to attend, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

People around the world have paid tribute to Havel, with many calling him a key historical figure of the 20th century. He shaped the Charter 77 movement that challenged communist abuses head-on, wrote influential works like his "The Power of the Powerless" essay, and remained committed to human rights and dignity in the face of repression throughout his life.

His leadership of the anticommunist opposition and the transition to multiparty democracy after events in 1989 allowed for the early breakup of the Warsaw Pact and reintegration of his country to European structures like the European Union and NATO.

Havel was Czechoslovak president from a unanimous vote of the Czechoslovak Federal Assembly in 1989 until that country's split into the Czech and Slovak republics at the start of 1993. He then served as Czech president until 2003, when he was succeeded by self-described Thatcherite Vaclav Klaus.

compiled from RFE/RL and agency reports