Czechs, world leaders mourn loss of Havel

Dissident playwright led Velvet Revolution

The events of August 1988, the 20th anniversary of the Warsaw Pact invasion, first suggested that Mr. Havel and his friends might one day replace the faceless apparatchiks who jailed them.

Thousands of mostly young people marched through central Prague, yelling Mr. Havel’s name.

His arrest in January 1989 at another street protest and his subsequent trial generated anger at home and abroad. Pressure for change was so strong that the communists released him again in May.

That fall, communism began to collapse across Eastern Europe, and in November the Berlin Wall fell. Eight days later, communist police brutally broke up a demonstration by thousands of Prague students.

It was the signal that Mr. Havel and his country had awaited. Within 48 hours, a broad new opposition movement was founded; and a day later, hundreds of thousands of Czechs and Slovaks took to the streets.

On Dec. 29, 1989, Mr. Havel was elected Czechoslovakia’s president by the country’s still-communist parliament.

In July 1992, it became clear that the Czechoslovak federation was heading for a split. Considering it a personal failure, Mr. Havel resigned as president. However he remained popular and was elected president of the new Czech Republic uncontested.

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