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State funeral held for Václav Havel

Prague, 23.12.2011 15:41, (ROMEA)
Photo:  Lukáš Houdek

The state funeral of former Czech President Václav Havel began today at noon to the tolling of church bells. The Requiem Mass at Prague's St. Vitus Cathedral, which was attended by dozens of dignitaries and hundreds of other guests, began with Archbishop Dominik Duka calling for a minute of silence. Church bells were rung throughout the entire country and sirens were heard in many places as well.

St. Vitus Cathedral was full of mourners from the Czech Republic and abroad, including Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Slovak Prime Minister Iveta Radičová, the Secretary of State of the United States of America, Hillary Rodham Clinton, her husband, former US President William Jefferson Clinton, and former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. The funeral was also attended by the Mayor of Prague, Bohuslav Svoboda, the chair of the Czech Constitutional Court, Pavel Rychetský, and Mr Havel's colleagues, including various artists. His widow, Dagmar, arrived just before noon. The coffin bearing his remains was carried into the cathedral from the Vladislav Hall by soldiers more than two hours prior to the funeral.

Security barriers were erected in front of Prague Castle's third courtyard. Both the foreign delegates and Czech representatives were transported by vehicle to the Golden Gate of the cathedral, where they were welcomed by the Chancellor of the Office of the President of the Czech Republic, Jiří Weigl.

Other mourners included the former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Helena Illnerová, the chair of the Czech Green Party, Ondřej Liška, former Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek, and the former chair of the Czech Green Party, Martin Bursík. Ladislav Kantor, a co-worker of Havel's, attended, as did the actor Pavel Landovský, in a wheelchair. The singer Lucie Bílá, musician Petr Hapka, and theater director Petr Oslzlý also attended.

The flag-draped coffin was situated in the front part of the cathedral before the altar, where Havel's family and the most important guests were seated. Musicians from the Czech Philharmonic performed from the center of the church. Organizers added hundreds of chairs to augment the seating capacity of the pews.

A large screen was erected in the second courtyard of Prague Castle so onlookers could view a live broadcast of the funeral. Hundreds of people were there, some wearing the Czech tricolor on their clothing. At 10 AM, three girls were already waiting to watch the funeral in the chilly weather. "He did so much for our nation, we are grateful to be living in a democratic country, that we can live here in freedom," said 14-year-old Anežka Chroustová, who was carrying a yellow rose. "Certainly he influenced it - communism would have definitely fallen at some point anyway, but he probably did a lot to help it," said Simona Staníčková, also 14. "We're the ones who have only learned about him. We're glad we at least get to see the funeral like this. We'll go to Wenceslas Square afterward to lay our flowers there," her friend Jana Volfová said.

Later this afternoon, people from Havel's family and those closest to him will pay their last respects to him at the crematorium in Strašnice. Several hundred people are expected for the private service.

This evening a multi-genre event will take place at the Lucerna Palace in Prague called "In Honor of Václav Havel". The Grand Hall will feature bands, happenings, exhibitions and theater troupes.

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