|Former Czech Republic's President Vaclav Havel looks on during an exclusive interview with The Associated Press in Prague, Czech Republic on Friday Oct. 3, 2008. Vaclav Havel said the global economic crisis is a warning not to abandon basic human values in the scramble to prosper. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)|
PRAGUE (AP) - Braving the freezing
cold, thousands of Czechs bid a personal farewell Monday to former President
Vaclav Havel, who led the peaceful revolution
that toppled the communist regime in 1989.
The mourners waited patiently in a long
line in front of the Prague Crossroads at the city's Old Town, where the coffin
with Havel's body went on display Monday. Many
were carrying flowers to honor Havel, who died
Sunday at age 75.
The government announced that a
three-day official mourning period will start Wednesday and said it will hold a
state funeral, including a Mass, on Friday at the country's biggest and most
famous church, St. Vitus Cathedral.
A private funeral for family members
will follow at a crematory, Prague archbishop Dominik Duka said.
|FILE - U.S. President Barack Obama, left, meets former Czech President Vaclav Havel, during a summit between the United States and the 27-member European Union in Prague, Czech Republic, in this April 5, 2009 file photo. Havel, the dissident playwright who wove theater into politics to peacefully bring down communism in Czechoslovakia and become a hero of the epic struggle that ended the Cold War, died Sunday Dec. 18, 2011 in Prague. He was 75. (AP Photo/Bela Szandelszky, File)|
Prime Minister Petr Necas urged Czech
citizens to observe a minute of silence at Friday noon and his government
proposed a special law recognizing Havel's
"contribution to freedom and democracy."
had turned a former church into a space where he organized international
conferences and met leaders of other countries, dissidents and friends from all
around the globe after his final term in office end in 2003.
"He was a hero for me since my
childhood," said Zuzana Hronova, 32, who traveled to the capital from the
city of Pardubice, 100 kilometers (62 miles) east of Prague.
"One day I will share this
experience with my children," she said, carrying one of her two daughters,
2-year-old Barbora, on her shoulders. "It would be great for them to have
such a hero but I can't see anyone who could replace him now."
|An European Union flag is wrapped around a pole at half staff in front of EU headquarters in Brussels on Monday Dec. 19, 2011. Flags were lowered on Monday to commemorate the life of former Czech President Vaclav Havel who died on Dec. 18th. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)|
wife Dagmar, who was with her husband till the last, arrived dressed in black
with dark sunglasses to place roses on the coffin.
On Wednesday, the remains will be moved
to the Prague Castle, the presidency seat, to be on display there for another
Czechs were also signing condolence
books to pay tribute to Havel in Prague and many
other places all across the country, as well as in the Slovak capital of
Bratislava. Slovakia, which split from the Czech Republic in 1993, declared an
official day of mourning on Friday.
aide Sabina Tancevova said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton
expressed her wish to attend the funeral.
|Mourners line up to pay respect at the coffin with the remains of former Czech president Vaclav Havel displayed at the Prague Crossroads centre in Prague, Czech Republic, Monday, Dec. 19, 2011. Havel, the dissident playwright who wove theater into politics to peacefully bring down communism in Czechoslovakia and become a hero of the epic struggle that ended the Cold War, died Sunday Dec. 18, 2011 in Prague. He was 75. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)|
Immediately after the news about Havel's death spread Sunday, thousands of Czechs
spontaneously gathered at many key historic places - such is the monument of
the 1989 Velvet Revolution in downtown Prague - to lay flowers and light
candles for him.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
called Havel "the moral voice of his
country and his era. His humanity, humility and decency were an example for us
In Warsaw, Poles who waged similar
struggles against their own communist regime paid their respects to Havel at the Czech Embassy, lighting candles and
placing flowers under a portrait of him hanging outside the building.
"I really respect him as a person.
He was an intellectual and a man of great modesty," said Daria Czapula,
69, who lit a candle, struggling in the wind. "For us there is a little
jealousy that we didn't have such a leader."
In Brussels, flags were lowered to
half-staff as NATO and other European Union institutions observed a minute of