Former Czech president Václav Havel died at 10:15 AM on Sunday at the age of 75 after a protracted lung illness, an assistant to Mr Havel told the news agency ČTK. The former dissident, playwright and politician passed away in his sleep at his country house Hrádeček, in northern Bohemia, tended to by his wife Dagmar. Mr Havel’s health deteriorated in recent months; the former head of state suffered from lung and heart problems, and he had to limit his public appearances. The last time Václav Havel appeared in public was last week when he received the Dalai Lama during his Prague visit.
The funeral of the late Václav Havel will probably take place in Prague on Friday, December 23, the news agency ČTK reported. President Václav Klaus is set to meet with Mr Havel’s widow, Dagmar, on Monday to discuss the details. Top Czech officials will also gather at Prague Castle on Sunday to discuss further arrangements; condolence books will be open for people to sign at Prague castle on Monday. The Czech government will meet for an extraordinary session on Monday to declare a national day of mourning, Prime Minister Petr Nečas said.
Reacting to the demise of his predecessor in office, Czech President Václav Klaus on Sunday said Václav Havel had come to symbolize the modern-day Czech state, and his personality, name and work played a crucial role in the Czech Republic’s accession to the community of free and democratic states. Mr Klaus said he respected Václav Havel ever since they first met in the 1960s. In November 1989, Václav Havel invited Václav Klaus to join the emerging Czechoslovak democratic government; although the two politicians often clashed on a number of issues throughout the 1990s and the first decade of the new millennium, President Klaus said these polemics were very fruitful.
Many international personalities hailed Václav Havel as a great European, humanist and statesman. US President Barack Obama said he was deeply moved by Mr Havel’s death, adding he was inspired by the Czech statesman, just like millions of others around the world. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Mr Havel was a great European who will be remembered for his efforts to promote human rights and democracy. British Prime Minister David Cameron said none of his generation will forget the Velvet Revolution, and that Europe owed a debt of gratitude to the late Václav Havel. French President Nicolas Sarkozy also expressed great sorrow over Václav Havel’s passing away. The Austrian chancellor, Werner Feymann said Mr Havel was one of Europe’s most important figures after WWII, while former US Secretary of State Madaleine Albright said Václav Havel made his nation proud, as for many people around the world, the words Havel and Czech have the same meaning; according to the chairman of the European Commission, Jose Barroso, the former president was a true champion of freedom and democracy.
Czechs are gathering in many cities and town to mourn the loss of Václav Havel. In Prague, people are lighting candles and laying flowers at Prague Castle, in front of the November 17 memorial in Prague’s Národní třída and at the statue of St Wenceslas on Wenceslas Square. People are also gathering in Brno, and many are displaying photos of Václav Havel in their windows. A major rally in honout of the iconic Czech freedom fighter started at 6 PM in Prague’s Wenceslas Square which is when church bells across the country sounded in Václav Havel’s commemoration.
The Czech national hockey team beat Russia 4:3 after penalty shoot-out to claim second place at the Chanel One Cup, the Moscow’s leg of the Euro Hockey Tour. The Czech took an early lead when Roman Červenka scored after 31 seconds of the game. But the Russians soon equalized, and were leading 3:2 by the end of the second period. With some 13 minutes to go, Tomáš Rolinek set the score at 3:3 and took the game to over time and penalty shootouts. There, Zbyněk Irgl converted all of his three penalties, ensuring the Czech team’s victory. The Czechs finished second at the Channel One Cup, and rank third in the overall standings of the Euro Hockey League.
A number of Czech politicians on Sunday expressed sorrow over the death of former president Václav Havel. Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas said Mr Havel’s passing away was a great loss for the Czech Republic, and said he deserved the highest state honours. Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said Václav Havel was the most famous Czech who enjoyed more popularity abroad than he did at home. According to former Social Democrat PM Miloš Zeman, the former dissident and politician was a symbol of the Czech Republic who had the courage to stand up against the communist regime at a time when many others lacked it. The head of the coalition Public Affairs party Radek John called Václav Havel one of the greatest Czechs, while Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek said Mr Havel did a lot during the country’s accession to the EU and NATO.
The prime minister of Ukraine, Mykola Azarov, will on Monday arrive in
Prague for talks with officials in an attempt to restart political dialogue
between the two countries, the news agency ČTK reported. The visit comes
months after Czech-Ukrainian relations took a serious downturn; in May,
Ukraine expelled two Czech embassy workers in retaliation for Prague having
granted asylum to a former Ukrainian government minister.
During the brief official visit, Mr Azarov is set meet with Czech PM Petr Nečas to discuss mutual cooperation, particularly in the energy and industry sectors, as well as Ukraine’s approximation to the EU; the Ukrainian leader will also meet Czech President Václav Klaus.
A week before Christmas Eve, Czech girl and boy scouts on Saturday began distributing the Light of Bethlehem around the country. The Light of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, arrived in the Czech Republic from Vienna on Friday, was first taken to St Vitus Cathedral in Prague where it was blessed by Archbishop Dominik Duka. On Saturday, scouts are distributing it by train to all corners of the Czech Republic for people to light their own candles. The tradition of the Light of Bethlehem first appeared in then Czechoslovakia in December, 1989.
Storm Joachim hit the Czech Republic on Friday night, disrupting traffic in several areas. Strong winds, reaching hurricane force winds in places, and snowing blocked roads and railway routes namely in the Krkonoše and Jeseníky Mountains. International trains traveling along the Prague-Břeclav line were delayed. Fire brigades had to clear roads in the worst-hit areas of eastern Bohemia. Up to 45 cm of fresh snow fell overnight in elevated areas. Meteorologists warn that similar conditions will continue in parts of the country into the weekend.
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