Vaclav Havel Mourned: Leader's Last Public Journey (PHOTOS)
(Adds details of procession, quotes)
By Robert Mueller and Michael Kahn
PRAGUE, Dec 21 (Reuters) - Vaclav Havel's actress wife
led thousands of mourners through Prague's cobblestone streets
on Wednesday, following the playwright-president's body on its
last public journey, to the castle where it will lie in state
until a funeral on Friday.
Dagmar Havlova was joined by leading figures from the Czech
state and society as well as the former dissident's fellow
citizens wishing to pay tribute to the man who died on Sunday,
22 years after leading the "Velvet Revolution" that ended
Communist rule over Czechoslovakia in December 1989.
Hundreds of soldiers lined the streets forming an honour
guard and a military band played funeral dirges. Some people
peered out of windows above the streets for a better view while
many schoolchildren took a day off school with their teachers to
witness the event.
"This was an honest man," said 67-year-old
Jaroslava Leskakova as she marched in the sombre cortege behind
the hearse through the sunlit cobbled streets of the old city
toward the landmark Charles Bridge that leads to Prague Castle.
"He did not think of himself but did all he could for people
to be happy," said Leskakova of Havel. He was repeatedly jailed
by the Soviet-allied Communist authorities in the 1970s and 80s
for his activism in the Charter 77 civil rights movement and
then led the nation as president from 1989 to 2003.
Moving from an arts centre Havel helped found, the coffin,
covered in the Czech flag, began its journey to the castle he
found himself suddenly thrust into as head of state. The journey
was symbolic of the transformation in Havel's own life, from
censored playwright to a statesman rebuilding eastern Europe.
Some watched the procession on a giant screen in
the square in front of the castle while others jostled for
position closer to the street for a better view of the carriage
drawn by six black horses. Most stood in silence as they waited
for Havel's body to pass by.
The final transfer into the castle, where Friday's funeral
mass will be held in the presence of dignitaries from around the
world, was made on the gun carriage last used for the funeral in
1937 of national hero Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, who led
Czechoslovakia to independence from the Austrian empire in 1918.
A light rain began falling as the coffin entered the castle
where the crowd lining the street began quietly applauding and
shaking their keys -- a spontaneous tribute recollecting the
protests people made during the revolution to signal the final
bell on the communist regime.
"I wish that all who are not indifferent to the future of
our country, pursue their opinions with the same courage and
conviction as Vaclav Havel did," said President Vaclav Klaus,
who often clashed with Havel over the country's direction after
Among those expected at a funeral which will
conclude three days of national mourning are U.S. Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton and her husband Bill, who as president
famously played the saxophone on a trip to a Prague nightclub
with Havel in 1994.
Poland's dissident-turned-president Lech Walesa will be
among those attending from a generation who can look back on a
moment in history when peaceful protests - and Moscow's loss of
will to crush them - ended the Cold War division of the Europe.
Until the end, Havel had continued to support democratic
activists around the world. In his last public statement, he had
denounced this month's parliamentary election in Russia as
rigged and urged Vladimir Putin's opponents to form a shadow
government and stand up to "bullying" by the authorities.
"He will always be the symbol for the revolution and I will
always value him as a person," said Jan Faltys, a 23-year-old
student born a year before the 1989 revolution that thrust Havel
to a global stage.
(Writing by Jan Lopatka and Michael Kahn; Editing by Alastair