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Czech state mourns former President Václav Havel

Czech Republic, 20.12.2011 17:05, (ROMEA)

The Czech Republic is bidding farewell to Václav Havel. At an extraordinary cabinet session, the Czech Government decided that a three-day state period of mourning will begin on Wednesday and end at the close of Friday. The funeral march will take place on Wednesday, when the coffin bearing the remains of the former president will be transported to the Vladislav Hall at Prague Castle using the same gun-carriage that transported the remains of the first president of an independent Czechoslovakia, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. The state funeral of the first-ever Czech President will take place on Friday at noon in St Vitus Cathedral at Prague Castle.

The Czech Republic will honor the memory of former President Václav Havel during a three-day period of official state mourning beginning Wednesday and ending at the close of Friday. Flags will be flown at half-mast on all public buildings. On Friday at noon, the Government will recommend all citizens observe a minute of silence in honor of Havel's memory. The Government will also propose that the Czech Parliament adopt a special law underscoring the fact that Havel was responsible for the existence of the state. Speaking after the brief cabinet session, the Prime Minister said the law will record the fact that the former president was responsible for democracy and freedom in the country. The Slovak Government announced slightly before the Czech Government that Slovakia will also hold an official day of mourning for Havel on Friday.

The coffin bearing the former president's remains will be transported to the Vladislav Hall at Prague Castle using the same horse-drawn gun-carriage that transported the remains of the first president of an independent Czechoslovakia, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. High state officials and representatives of Czech public life will gather for a memorial service in the historic hall, which is only used on state holidays. Czech President Václav Klaus will deliver the eulogy.

The funeral march route will be lined with a total of 600 soldiers, according to the general staff. The public will be able to follow the march from Hradčanské náměstí and from the first and second courtyards of Prague Castle. Radim Ochvat of Prague Castle has also announced that large outdoor screens will be erected in the second courtyard and on Hradčanské náměstí for a live broadcast of the memorial service in Vladislav Hall.

The funeral organizers are making every effort to model the paying of respects to the former head of state along the lines of First Republic traditions. The Czech Philharmonic will perform in Vladislav Hall on Wednesday and has canceled its concert schedule in honor of the official morning period. The march will include standard-bearers carrying the historic banners from the days of the Legionnaires during the First World War, the First Republic, and the Second World War. The march will also include 18 military banners representing present-day units of the Czech Army, designs that were bestowed upon the soldiers by Havel during his presidency.

The funeral procession will depart at 8 AM from the Prague Crossroads center for the Castle. After crossing the Vltava over the Charles Bridge, the procession will enter the Castle grounds through the Gate of the Titans and proceed across the first, second and third courtyards to the Ancient Royal Palace.

The public will be able to pay their last respects to the former president at Prague Castle starting at 13:00. The Vladislav Hall will be open "at least until 20:00", according to Prague Castle management. On Thursday opening hours will be from 8:00 until 20:00. Entry into the Vladislav Hall for the public will be facilitated through the second courtyard by way of Na Vikárce street, as well as through Jiřské náměstí. The Castle will be closed to the public on Wednesday until 13:00.

Funeral services, attended by leading Czech figures and guests from abroad, will take place at Prague Castle on Friday at noon. Prague Castle has confirmed that the main officiant will be Archbishop Dominik Duka. The public will also be able to watch the service in a live broadcast on the big screens erected on the Castle grounds. Soldiers from the Prague Command will honor their former Supreme Commander with a 21-gun salute.

Havel, who became the country's first president after the Velvet Revolution of 1989, passed away at the age of 75 on Sunday morning at his cottage in Hrádeček na Trutnovsku. Expressions of condolences have been arriving in the country from the entire world. On Sunday, many people throughout the Czech Republic commemorated Havel's memory at various gatherings and by lighting candles. Many important buildings are flying black flags.

ČTK, Gwendolyn Albert, Czech Press Agency, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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