Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Former Czech leader Havel dies

Former Czech Republic president Vaclav Havel has died at the age of 75 (AP)

Vaclav Havel, the dissident playwright who turned to politics to help peacefully bring down communism in Czechoslovakia, has died at the age of 75.

His assistant Sabina Dancecova said Mr Havel died on Sunday morning at his weekend house in the northern Czech Republic.

Mr Havel was his country's first democratically elected president after the non-violent "Velvet Revolution" that ended four decades of repression by a regime he ridiculed as "Absurdistan".

As president, he oversaw the country's bumpy transition to democracy and a free-market economy, as well its peaceful 1993 break-up into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Czech leaders and foreign politicians have begun paying tribute to Mr Havel.

Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas called him "the symbol of 1989" and said he "did a tremendous job for this country".

Mr Necas's deputy, Karolina Peake, called his death "the end of an era, and end of the person who meant so much for the country".

Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt tweeted that Havel was "one of the greatest Europeans of our age".

The Czech government is expected to meet on Monday to declare a period of official mourning.