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Thousands bid former Czech President Havel farewell at the Prague Crossroads

Prague, 20.12.2011 15:34, (ROMEA)
Honoring Havel's memory in the center of Prague. PHOTO:  Lukáš Houdek

The Prague Crossroads center has been visited by thousands of people since yesterday at noon when the coffin bearing the remains of former Czech President Václav Havel was made available for viewing. People waited hours in order to enter the center, which is located in the deconsecrated Church of St Anna. A long line stretched from the center across Betlémské náměstí to Husovo street. The coffin will remain at the center until Wednesday, when it will be moved to the Vladislav Hall at Prague Castle.

A despondent Dagmar Havlová, wife of the former president, spent about an hour in the church and laid a bouquet of red roses on her husband's coffin. She was accompanied by her daughter from a previous marriage, Nina, and the nursing sister from the Order of St. Carlo Borromeo who cared for the former president until his death. Once it was noon, the gates of the church were opened to the public.

People of all ages, from senior citizens to young people, had already gathered at the entrance to the church with flowers and candles, which they lit in front of the building. Some even waited as long as two hours in the chilly weather for the church to open. Emergency medical technicians and police officers were on the scene, making tea for those who were too cold. Once the doors opened at noon, the line became dozens of meters long. The church security guard said an average of 350 people per hour passed by the coffin. Even though organizers of the viewing informed those interested that the church would close at 20:00, some who wanted to pay their last respects to the former president remained in the church past closing.

Those who came to bid the former president farewell mainly brought red roses. Many laid them on the coffin with tears in their eyes. The coffin bearing Havel's remains had been placed on a podium that was accessible by stairs. People bowed before the coffin, some even kneeling while making the sign of the cross. The visitors' facial expressions were agitated. People signed the book of condolences and also viewed a small exhibition of photographs from the life of the former president.

People's entries in the book of condolences were full of love and thanks. Some were just short slogans, such as "We thank you for freedom" or "We will never forget you". Most of the mourners spoke of Havel as a president whom they considered a symbol of freedom and honor. "I feel like a family member of mine has died," said a woman who gave her name as Eva from Prague. "My feelings are of admiration, humility, and respect."

The architect Bořek Šípek, who was a close collaborator of Havel's, arranged the funeral decorations in the center. He chose a simple arrangement of red roses and white lilies. Several stylized blown-glass doves and an orange blown-glass heart were hung above the coffin.

Gwendolyn Albert, České noviny.cz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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