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Monday 19 December 2011

Velvet Revolution hero Vaclav Havel, dies at 75

Velvet Revolution hero Vaclav Havel, dies at 75

PRAGUE: Vaclav Havel, the dissident playwrightwho wove theater into politics to peacefully bring down communism in Czechoslovakia and become a hero of the epic struggle that ended the Cold War, has died. He was 75.

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

Havel was his country's first democratically elected president after the nonviolent '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 freemarket economy, as well its peaceful 1993 breakup into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Even out of office, the diminutive Czech remained a world figure. He was part of the 'new Europe' - in the coinage of then-US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld - of ex-communist countries that stood up for the US when the democracies of "old Europe" opposed the 2003 Iraq invasion.

A former chain-smoker, Havel had a history of chronic respiratory problems dating back to his years in communist jails. He was hospitalized in Prague on Jan 12, 2009, with an unspecified inflammation, and had developed breathing difficulties after undergoing minor throat surgery. Havel left office in 2003, 10 years after Czechoslovakia broke up and just months before both nations joined the European Union. He was credited with laying the groundwork that brought his Czech Republic into the 27-nation bloc, and was president when it joined Nato in 1999.

Havel came to symbolize the power of the people to peacefully overcome totalitarian rule. "Truth and love must prevail over lies and hatred," Havel famously said.

He was nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize, and collected dozens of other accolades worldwide for his efforts. AP

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