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Former Czech president Havel dead at 75

Dec. 18, 2011 at 12:51 PM   |   Comments

PRAGUE, Czech Republic, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- Former Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel died in his sleep at home northeast of Prague early Sunday, his secretary said. He was 75.

Havel died after a history of heart and lung problems with his wife, Dagmar, at his side, his secretary told the Czech CTK news agency.

Havel was an ardent anti-communist who spent five years in Soviet prisons for his views. He was elected president in the wake of the 18-day Velvet Revolution in December 1989 that ousted Communists. He was elected again in 1993 and held that post for 10 years, Radio Prague said.

Havel also oversaw the peaceful division of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993.

U.S. President Obama said Sunday former Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel, who died in Prague Sunday, was an inspiration to millions of people.

"Like millions around the world, I was inspired by his words and leadership, and was humbled to stand with the Czech people in a free and vibrant Hradcany Square as president," Obama said in a written statement. "We extend our condolences to President Havel's family and all those in the Czech Republic and around the world who remain inspired by his example."

Obama said Havel "lived with a spirit of hope" that resonated as the Iron Curtain began to crumble.

There was no immediate announcement about funeral plans or who would represent the United States at the services.

Havel had a long history of lung and heart problems and was last seen greeting the Dalai Lama in Prague Dec. 10 in a wheelchair, the BBC said. In 1996, part of his right lung had to be removed due to a tumor, the reports said.

Havel was also a playwright and human rights advocate, Radio Prague said.

In March at the Prague premier of his film adaptation of his play "Leaving," he appeared frail and made few public appearances since, the broadcaster said.

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