Vaclav Havel Mourned: Leader's Last Public Journey (PHOTOS)

PHOTOS: Vaclav Havel's Last Public Journey
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By Robert Mueller and Michael Kahn

PRAGUE, Dec 21 (Reuters) - Vaclav Havel's actress wifeled thousands of mourners through Prague's cobblestone streetson Wednesday, following the playwright-president's body on itslast public journey, to the castle where it will lie in stateuntil a funeral on Friday.

Dagmar Havlova was joined by leading figures from the Czechstate and society as well as the former dissident's fellowcitizens wishing to pay tribute to the man who died on Sunday,22 years after leading the "Velvet Revolution" that endedCommunist rule over Czechoslovakia in December 1989.

Hundreds of soldiers lined the streets forming an honourguard and a military band played funeral dirges. Some peoplepeered out of windows above the streets for a better view whilemany schoolchildren took a day off school with their teachers towitness the event.

"This was an honest man," said 67-year-oldJaroslava Leskakova as she marched in the sombre cortege behindthe hearse through the sunlit cobbled streets of the old citytoward the landmark Charles Bridge that leads to Prague Castle.

"He did not think of himself but did all he could for peopleto be happy," said Leskakova of Havel. He was repeatedly jailedby the Soviet-allied Communist authorities in the 1970s and 80sfor his activism in the Charter 77 civil rights movement andthen 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 hefound himself suddenly thrust into as head of state. The journeywas symbolic of the transformation in Havel's own life, fromcensored playwright to a statesman rebuilding eastern Europe.

Some watched the procession on a giant screen inthe square in front of the castle while others jostled forposition closer to the street for a better view of the carriagedrawn by six black horses. Most stood in silence as they waitedfor Havel's body to pass by.

The final transfer into the castle, where Friday's funeralmass will be held in the presence of dignitaries from around theworld, was made on the gun carriage last used for the funeral in1937 of national hero Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, who ledCzechoslovakia to independence from the Austrian empire in 1918.

A light rain began falling as the coffin entered the castlewhere the crowd lining the street began quietly applauding andshaking their keys -- a spontaneous tribute recollecting theprotests people made during the revolution to signal the finalbell on the communist regime.

"I wish that all who are not indifferent to the future ofour country, pursue their opinions with the same courage andconviction as Vaclav Havel did," said President Vaclav Klaus,who often clashed with Havel over the country's direction aftercommunism.

Among those expected at a funeral which willconclude three days of national mourning are U.S. Secretary ofState Hillary Clinton and her husband Bill, who as presidentfamously played the saxophone on a trip to a Prague nightclubwith Havel in 1994.

Poland's dissident-turned-president Lech Walesa will beamong those attending from a generation who can look back on amoment in history when peaceful protests - and Moscow's loss ofwill to crush them - ended the Cold War division of the Europe.

Until the end, Havel had continued to support democraticactivists around the world. In his last public statement, he haddenounced this month's parliamentary election in Russia asrigged and urged Vladimir Putin's opponents to form a shadowgovernment and stand up to "bullying" by the authorities.

"He will always be the symbol for the revolution and I willalways value him as a person," said Jan Faltys, a 23-year-oldstudent born a year before the 1989 revolution that thrust Havelto a global stage. (Writing by Jan Lopatka and Michael Kahn; Editing by AlastairMacdonald)

Before You Go

Vaclav Havel Procession

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