World

Czechs mourn late President Vaclav Havel

PRAGUE - Venturing out in freezing cold, thousands of Czechs bid a personal farewell yesterday 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 was displayed. 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 tomorrow 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.

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A private funeral for family members will follow at a crematory, said Archbishop Dominik Duka of Prague.

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Prime Minister Petr Necas urged Czech citizens to observe a minute of silence at noon Friday, and his government proposed a special law recognizing Havel’s “contribution to freedom and democracy.’’

Havel 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, 62 miles east of Prague.

Havel’s wife Dagmar, who was with her husband till the last, arrived dressed in black and placed roses on the coffin.

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Havel was “the moral voice of his country and his era,’’ said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. “His humanity, humility and decency were an example for us all.’’