The Washington Times - December 18, 2011, 03:36PM

President Obama on Sunday said he was saddened by the death of Vaclav Havel, the dissident playwright who went on to become a hero of Czechoslovakia’s 1989 “Velvet Revolution” against totalitarian rule and later was elected the country’s first post-Communist democratic president.

A former chain smoker with a history of chronic respiratory problems dating back to his years in communist jails, Mr. Havel died Sunday morning at his home in the Czech Republic with his wife, Dagmar, and a nun who had been caring for him at his side. He was 75.

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“Having encountered many setbacks, Havel lived with a spirit of hope, which he defined as ‘the ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed,’” Mr. Obama said in a statement.

“His peaceful resistance shook the foundations of an empire, exposed the emptiness of a repressive ideology, and proved that moral leadership is more powerful than any weapon,” the president said.

“He also embodied the aspirations of half a continent that had been cut off by the Iron Curtain, and helped unleash tides of history that led to a united and democratic Europe,” Mr. Obama continued.

Like millions around the world, Mr. Obama said he was inspired by Mr. Havel’s words and leadership and extended condolences to Mr. Havel’s family and “all those in the Czech Republic and around the world who remain inspired by his example.”

“Vaclav Havel was a friend to America and to all who strive for freedom and dignity, and his words will echo through the ages,” Mr. Obama said.